Terry McAuliffe Got Into an Argument About Socialized Medicine During His Son's Birth

When his daughter was being born, the Virginia Democrat's wife told him to attend a reporter's party. Maybe this is why.
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Terry McAuliffe (right) with Bill Clinton (Reuters)

Despite the best efforts of Mark Sanford and Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the most entertaining race in the country in 2013 is sure to be the battle for Virginia governor, pitting Republican Ken "The Cooch" Cuccinelli against Democrat Terry "The Macker" McAuliffe: two divisive candidates in a fierce battle in a purple state just outside D.C.

On Wednesday, BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski spotted two embarrassing passages in McAuliffe's 2007 memoir What a Party. In one case, he dodged out of the hospital as his wife was about to give birth to his daughter Sarah, hitting up a party for a reporter instead.

I was trying hard not to appear restless, but I am not one to sit still for long and soon I was going stir-crazy, which drove [McAuliffe's wife] Dorothy nuts. 'Isn't there something you need to do?' she finally said. I told her The Washington Post was having a party that evening for Lloyd Grove, who wrote the 'Reliable Source' column. 'Go!' she said. 'You're like a caged animal here. I'll call you if I need you.' I went flying out the door and drove to the party.

So at least his wife was understanding in that case. But when his son Peter was born, he insisted on stopping off at a union dinner to raise cash for the Democratic Party. Dorothy was less pleased this time. "We got to the dinner and by then Dorothy was in tears, and I left her with Justin and went inside," he wrote, but shrugged, "Nobody ever said life with me was easy."

This earned McAuliffe a solid round of derision, unsurprisingly. It's not just that he seems to have put politics before family so brazenly; it's that he cheerfully told the stories in his own memoir, as if (as Rosie Gray put it) they make him "raffish and lovable."

But maybe there's a reason Dorothy didn't want him present for Sarah's birth. Take this anecdote, which he also tells in the book, about what happened when he stuck around for his son Jack's birth in 1993, as President Clinton was trying to pass health-care reform:

Dorothy was in labor at Georgetown Hospital and I was there lending moral support. Just to be friendly, I started talking to the anesthesiologist and her OB, Dr. Mark Reiter, and before you knew it we were really getting into it over health care. Dorothy was suffering through the pain of labor and the doctors and I were having a heated argument.

"Do you want socialized medicine?" the anesthesiologist asked me, his voice rising.

"Of course not," I said. "However, there are thirty-seven million uninsured people in this country with no access to health care. Is that fair?"

I was almost shouting by then and began to worry that in his first moments on earth, poor little Jack was going to have his mind seared for life with this health-care debate.

"And last year we spent $45 billion on administrative costs," I said. "That's not providing health care. That's pushing paper. You call that efficient?"

We were making so much noise that we got kicked out of the delivery room by a nurse who made Nurse Ratched look like Mother Teresa.

"Okay, guys, you're out of here," she insisted and we walked out into the doctor's lounge to slug it out there. Jack McAuliffe is still proud to this day that as he came into the world his father was down the hall fighting for the little guy.

(You can see the passage here on Google Books)

Say what you will about McAuliffe, but this does make it hard to question his commitment to health-reform, I guess. For folks who aren't immersed in politics 24/7, it's amazing to see just how much business consumes McAuliffe's brain: He remembers his children's births through the lens of politics; his presence or absence is determined by politics; and even as his son is about to be born, that's what's on his mind.

McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are currently running close together, with Cuccinelli holding a slight lead but many voters undecided. Cuccinelli is the state attorney general, while McAuliffe, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2009.

UPDATE: Here's McAuliffe reading the excerpt, from the audio version of What a Party:

Presented by

David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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