McCaughey on the Daily Show

Well, my TV-owning neighbors were all away last night, so I couldn't watch the McCaughey-Stewart showdown by peering through their windows and had to see it just now on the web. Clips below, starting with the first segment of the interview as broadcast. Three conclusions:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Betsy McCaughey Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests


Conclusion one: I have been far too soft on Betsy McCaughey. Even when conferring on her the title of "most destructive effect on public discourse by a single person" for the 1990s. She is way less responsible and tethered to the world of "normal" facts and discourse than I had imagined.

Conclusion two: The exchange is significant, because it demonstrates that there is indeed a way to "handle" Jon Stewart. You simply have to ignore what he says, interrupt and talk over him, and keep asserting that you're right. You even can try to usurp his role as host by mugging at the audience and rolling your eyes in a shared "there he goes again!" joke with the viewers.

In retrospect, this is the crucial weakness that in their different ways both Bill Kristol and Jim Cramer revealed in their appearances on the show. They listened to Stewart and -- even Kristol!!?! -- revealed through their bearing that they recognized there was such a thing as being caught in an inconsistency or presented with an inconvenient fact. McCaughey did none of that. She is just making it up, as anyone who has followed her work over the decades will know. She was not even minimally prepared for her appearance on the show, flipping aimlessly through the giant briefing book (of legislative clauses) she brought on stage. But  she didn't let it bother her. The exchange demonstrated that if the guest reveals no self-awareness or does not accept the premise of factual challenge, Stewart can't get in his normal licks. Future guests will study this show.

Conclusion three: A good point Stewart made, albeit not registered by McCaughey, concerns the unbelievable inconsistency of attention to "incentives" built into health care systems, today's and tomorrow's.

That is: when McCaughey admits that there is no literal "death panel" provision in the new health care provision, she goes on to say something similar to what other conservatives, most recently Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post today, contend: that the very act of reimbursing doctors for a  discussion about "living wills" and end-of-life care will have a subtle bias in favor of an euthanasia-like outcome.

On the merits of this claim, I vehemently disagree. Having had, along with my siblings, first-hand, extended, and very painful experience with this process during my own father's decline and death last year, I would put reimbursement schemes for living-will discussions at the very bottom of the list of factors that make such decisions so wrenching for everyone involved.

But let's assume I'm wrong (though you'll never convince me of that) -- and that there is some third-order ripple-effect bias that comes from paying doctors for these every-five-year discussions. Why is the potential skewing effect of that payment the only thing we notice -- and not the thousand other life-and-death, rationing-and-queuing incentives that are built into every detail of the medical system now? And that David Goldhill -- no supporter of the Obama plan -- goes into so thoroughly in his cover story in this month's magazine? Yesterday I spent more than an hour on the customer "service" line for my own health insurance company, trying to get the answer to a simple "is this covered?" question. At the end of the hour, when I'd reached the queue to talk to a human agent, I got this recording: "Due to circumstances beyond our control, your call cannot be completed at this time. Please call again later." This has a kind of rationing/skewed incentive effect of its own -- even for someone fortunate, like me, to have good health insurance coverage. So, yes: I will listen to arguments about the hypothetical, subtle, psychological biasing effect of encouraging discussions about end-of-life decisions -- but only if they're in the context of the far more blatant, perverse, and destructive incentives built into today's system.

But see for yourself.

Second part of McCaughey's interview as broadcast.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Betsy McCaughey Pt. 2
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests


Extended interview, with outtakes, part 1, is here; extended interview part 2 is here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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