Meretricious

Since George Will thought to write a eulogy for Kennedy which included the term "meretricious," we thought it might be entertaining to take a trip back in time.  Here, via Hullabaloo via Somerby, is an excerpt from a 1995 James Fallows' article about Bill Clinton's 1993 attempt at health care reform:

Much of the problem for the plan seemed, at least in Washington, to come not even from mandatory alliances but from an article by Elizabeth McCaughey, then of the Manhattan Institute, published in The New Republic last February. The article's working premise was that McCaughey, with no ax to grind and no preconceptions about health care, sat down for a careful reading of the whole Clinton bill. Appalled at the hidden provisions she found, she felt it her duty to warn people about what the bill might mean. The title of her article was "No Exit," and the message was that Bill and Hillary Clinton had proposed a system that would lock people in to government-run care. "The law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," McCaughey wrote in the first paragraph. "The doctor can be paid only by the plan, not by you."

George Will immediately picked up this warning, writing in Newsweek that "it would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem 'necessary.'" The "doctors in jail" concept soon turned up on talk shows and was echoed for the rest of the year.

These claims, McCaughey's and Will's, were simply false. McCaughey's pose of impartiality was undermined by her campaign as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of New York soon after her article was published. I was less impressed with her scholarly precision after I compared her article with the text of the Clinton bill. Her shocked claim that coverage would be available only for "necessary" and "appropriate" treatment suggested that she had not looked at any of today's insurance policies. In claiming that the bill would make it impossible to go outside the health plan or pay doctors on one's own, she had apparently skipped past practically the first provision of the bill (Sec. 1003), which said,

"Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting the following: (1) An individual from purchasing any health care services."

It didn't matter. The White House issued a point-by-point rebuttal, which The New Republic did not run. Instead it published a long piece by McCaughey attacking the White House statement. The idea of health policemen stuck…

Through most of 1993 the Republicans believed that a health-reform bill was inevitable, and they wanted to be on the winning side. Bob Dole said he was eager to work with the Administration and appeared at events side by side with Hillary Clinton to endorse universal coverage. Twenty-three Republicans said that universal coverage was a given in a new bill.

In 1994 the Republicans became convinced that the President and his bill could be defeated. Their strategist, William Kristol, wrote a memo recommending a vote against any Administration health plan, "sight unseen." Three committees in the House and two in the Senate began considering the bill in earnest early in the year. Republicans on several committees had indicated that they would collaborate with Democrats on a bill; as the year wore on, Republicans dropped their support, one by one, for any health bill at all. Robert Packwood, who had supported employer mandates for twenty years, discovered that he opposed them in 1994. "[He] has assumed a prominent role in the campaign against a Democratic alternative that looks almost exactly like his own earlier policy prescriptions," the National Journal wrote. Early last summer conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans tried to put together a "mainstream coalition" supporting a plan without universal coverage, without employer mandates, and without other features that Republicans had opposed. In August, George Mitchell, the Democratic Party's Senate majority leader, announced a plan that was almost pure symbolism–no employer mandates, very little content except a long-term goal of universal coverage. Led by Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich, Republicans by September were opposing any plan. "Every time we moved toward them, they would move away," Hillary Clinton says.

Another demonstration of "the merely contingent connection between truth and rhetorical potency."

5 thoughts on “Meretricious”

  1. I understand the first part pointing out the hypocrisy of George Will. However, the ladder half seems to be little more than asserting that the Republicans initially thought that universal health care was inevitable, but then decided that they could fight it. Why quote that segment unless you’re trying to turn an accurate retort and refutation against George Will into an ad-hominem against those opposing health care reform via association?

  2. Well, in the first place, I don’t know why I quoted the other part–I guess I had already made my point. I suppose I was trying to point out that we’ve been down this road before.

    Anyway, that part wouldn’t constitute an ad hominem as you suggest. Besides, if I can’t associate George Will and William Kristol and the rest of the Republicans–many of whom are still in Congress–with the people currently in Congress, etc.–i.e., them–then I can’t associate anything with anything.

  3. Though I would continue to assert that not all Republicans are the same, the fact that the moniker of ‘Republican’ is taken on voluntarily means that such associates are inevitable, so I can see what you’re saying. I just thinks it’s dangerous to assume that even if the Republicans voted as a block, that their motivations and reasoning for doing so was the same. That is another thing entirely.

  4. No one is interested in their deeply secret motivations. I’m only interested in the things people say. So I don’t know what you’re talking about. Try to stick to the point.

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