As long as Dylan Ratigan, Rep. Anthony Weiner and Michelle Cottle of The New Republic have Betsy McCaughey pinned down, I might as well get a few kicks in. If you aren’t familiar with Betsy McCaughey, you would know her if you saw her, because she seems to be everywhere. She was influential in killing healthcare reform during the Clinton administration, but more recently, she is the progenitor of the “death panel” myth.

I first learned about her when she appeared as a guest on The Daily Show. She strode out carrying her trademark giant binder containing an obsolete version of the House bill. I expected her to explain how her remarks were taken out of context, and that what she really meant to say, etc. But in fact, she only reiterated her position that the bill requires people over 65 to discuss with their doctor every five years whether they should be sent to a farm upstate. She cited the exact page where this provision appears in the bill (that’s her thing; that’s what she does) and after finding the page that the relevant passage was actually on, she proceeded to read it over and over. What she read bore no resemblance to her death panel paranoia. When Jon Stewart pointed this out, she merely insisted that the passage said something different from what it actually said. Exasperated, Stewart plucked out the offending page and read the passage aloud. She insisted he wasn’t understanding it correctly.

My wife and I were completely baffled by this. She had already downloaded the bill and so she brought up the page and we both read it. There was no death panel clause or anything that could possibly be misconstrued as such. Yet McCaughey seemed so damned sure. We wondered whether the whole furor over healthcare stemmed from certain parties’ inability to read and interpret written words. There really seemed to be no other explanation for McCaughey’s behavior. But since then I have learned that McCaughey has a PhD in constitutional history from Columbia. Therefore, it seems unlikely that she is incapable of understanding text. What seems more likely is that her behavior, and in fact her whole rhetorical presence, is a product of her pathological insecurity. She grew up poor and went to Vassar. She was a pretty blonde doing graduate work at Columbia. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she had some anxiety about being taken seriously. That’s probably why she’s an obsessive footnoter and overreader. These are strategies people tend to adopt when their ideas don’t make any sense; they try to overcome critics through sheer force of documentation. Or maybe she’s just a hatchet man for the healthcare industry.

Similar Posts: