To the Editors:
In his review of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Living History [NYR, August 14], Garry Wills calls my critique of the Clinton health plan “erroneous.” Wills is an historian, a craft that requires that statements be supported by evidence. As a trained historian myself (Columbia University, Ph.D.) I am shocked by his departure from that standard. “Erroneous” is the charge. What proof does he have? None.
No wonder. My 1994 New Republic article “No Exit” won a National Magazine Award for the best article in the nation on public policy, and the H.L. Mencken Award. It was reprinted in newspapers throughout the nation and in several foreign languages. Why? It was an accurate description of the Clintons’ 1,362-page health bill, supported by references to the bill and authoritative medical journals.
The day my article appeared, the Clinton White House spewed that it was “blatantly false.” The New Republic asked me to respond, and I did in the next issue, once again providing documentation, as an historian should, for each statement. Not only did the Clinton White House shrink from any further exchange, it also declined invitations from the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and others to debate me on the bill. I would like to offer the same opportunity to Mr. Wills now.
Recently, some prominent historians have seen their reputations tarnished by their failure to live up to the standards of the profession. Mr. Wills seems to be next, choosing to write as a political hitman rather than a fair-minded historian.
Mr. Wills, are you ready to debate?
Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D.
Adjunct Senior Fellow
Garry Wills replies:
“Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D.”—as she once again styles herself after an embarrassing interlude as New York’s “Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey Ross”—did win an award for her New Republic article, a fact “some New Republic contributors bewailed,” according to Michael Tomasky (writing in New York magazine, May 13, 1996). They doubted that the judges read all 9,000 words of her piece, and they were certain that they had not read all 1,364 pages of the plan. Those who carefully read both documents proved that the article misrepresented the plan, falsely claiming that the plan would not allow one to choose one’s own doctor if one chose to pay him or her, that it would end fee-for-service plans, that it would destroy privacy. She treated as unique to the plan accountability procedures that are included in all insur-ance programs, most of which do not have the protections for privacy that the plan provided.
Ronald Dworkin, in a detailed response to her article in this very journal,* joined what he called “the many commentators who corrected her.” James Fallows in The Atlantic (January 1995) called her assertions “simply false.” Mickey Kaus of The New Republic (April 24, 1995) accused her of “hysteria,” based on her “I-know-nothing-about-this-subject-but-I’ve-read-the-whole- bill methodology.” Her scare tactics were like those of the “Harry and Louise” ads, and Dworkin correctly prophesied what they would lead to: “If they succeed in blocking any significant reform, many of the people they frightened into opposing it will one day find that they are among the ‘seriously ill’ or the unemployed or the millions of others for whom the high-tech health care she praises is only a sick joke.”
October 23, 2003