Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Clinton in Aspen

Via American Prospect, we learn about Bill Clinton's words at the Aspen Institute Ideas Festival, a gettogether for the Washington insiders but with a fairly liberal audience. Though perhaps "liberal" in a way that the so-called regular liberal on Fox News would appreciate. The idea of the Festival seems to be to say things which are usually said by the opposite side of politics, and to astonish everybody into great admiration for such unbiased and frank utterances.

Bill Clinton shows us how this is is done:

The great triangulator's point was that Democrats can't win the presidency if they don't campaign earnestly among churchgoing Christians—he noted that he got 75 percent more Evangelical votes in 1996 than John Kerry did in 2004. He suggested that Roe v. Wade was the unfortunate beginning of the end of civility between left and right. He said the Democrats are wrong to deny that malpractice suits don't drive up medical costs. And about the current war he said, "This is not Vietnam. I wouldn't set a deadline [for the withdrawal of troops]. I agree with the president." If anyone but him had said the same thing about Iraq, there would have been boos and hisses, as there had been the night Evan Thomas said he thought the administration had sincerely believed Saddam had WMD stockpiles.

Did he wet his finger first and stick it up in the air? He's probably working to place Hillary into the center for the next presidential campaign, though "center" these days is so far to the right that one can balance nothing on it.

Sadly for Bill, the things he confesses here are silly ones to confess. Take the malpractice suit effects on medical costs: Of course they increase medical costs. So does bandaging someone's finger or sending physicians to the Caribbean islands by pharmaceutical companies or advertising painkillers on television. The important question is the amount by which malpractice suits increase the costs, and here all studies are quite clear. Malpractice suits are not a major cause of higher health care costs. What is driving up those costs is high-technology medicine, especially in the end-of-life treatments which don't have a great succcess rate. Another important cause is the way medical markets don't function well in general: the firms can set prices quite high without causing any great drop in usage because patients are often insured and don't care about high prices and because there aren't that many choices for treatment when one is very ill.

George Bush attacks malpractice suits for two reasons, and neither one of them has anything to do with health care costs. The first one is his hatred of trial lawyers because they give more money to Democrats, and the second is his desire to make it harder and harder for ordinary workers and consumers to sue anyone on the business side for anything. And we pure rabble go along with it, as does Bill Clinton.

If political acumen depends on crossing the gaping chasm to the wingnut side this is probably a fairly easy way to do it. But I always said that Bill Clinton was the best Republican president we ever had.