Care Tactics

by Jeremy Smerd
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Unlike many of those engaged in policy debates, Betsy McCaughey ’76GSAS loves to fluff the pillows and curl up with a good piece of legislation. The densest draft bills are treated like high literature in her Park Avenue apartment.

On a mid-August morning, a particularly well-known (if widely unread) legislative War and Peace, a bill that runs to 1017 pages, sits in a binder on McCaughey’s dining room table, surrounded by 18th-century clocks, maritime paintings, and a picture of McCaughey with Margaret Thatcher.

Fifteen years ago, McCaughey’s reading habits led her to pen a series of articles warning Americans that the Clinton health-care plan would empower bureaucrats to override decisions made between doctor and patient. Her 4500-word piece, “No Exit,” in The New Republic won a National Magazine Award for excellence in the public interest. Credited with derailing Clinton Care, McCaughey rode conservative goodwill into politics, coming out of nowhere to become Republican lieutenant governor of New York under Governor George Pataki.

Now, once again, the blond, telegenic McCaughey is a central figure in the culture war over American health-care reform.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece in July, McCaughey concluded that Democratic reforms “will reduce access to care, pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely, and doom baby boomers to painful later years.”

Her frightening scenarios helped stoke a conservative backlash that turned a relatively civil national discussion over health-care reform into a full-blown spectacle that has included wild rhetoric, gun-packing protesters, and defensive political maneuvering by the White House.

By the time of the congressional recess in August, McCaughey’s contentions had quickly morphed into Sarah Palin’s “death panel” of bureaucrats who would, as one Republican senator memorably put it, “pull the plug on grandma.” Suddenly, it was health reform that was on life support.

Sitting in her living room, wearing pearls and a dark, pin-striped skirt suit, McCaughey, now 60, sighs deeply.

“I wish infection prevention was getting this much attention because that’s really my major passion in life,” she says. “Unfortunately, I’ve been made the center of attention simply because I’m an avid reader and researcher.”

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