The downfall of Betsy McCaughey

The right's favorite source for anti-healthcare reform information suffers a wave of bad PR


Alex Koppelman
October 7, 2009 4:15AM (UTC)

15 years ago, Betsy McCaughey was a pivotal figure in the debate over healthcare reform; with her article in the New Republic, "No Exit," she helped seal the fate of the Clinton administration's proposal. Now, the magazine that published the piece that made McCaughey famous has completely disavowed her work, and has printed a scathing piece in which she's dubbed "the blue-state Sarah Palin."

If healthcare reform passes this time around -- and, increasingly, it looks like it will, at least in some form -- it will be despite McCaughey's best efforts. She's been responsible for the majority of the most pernicious myths about the Democrats' plans, and some of those myths were downright terrifying. But she's become a marginal figure lately, one who has ended up with little influence over the debate.

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As Politico's Ben Smith observed after moderating a Monday night debate between McCaughey and Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., McCaughey is "nowhere near the player she was in 1994 -- in part perhaps because she's seen as a partisan, not an honest broker, and that's due in no small part to the relentless, effective assault from the left, a refighting of the last war that ensures they won't lose that battle, at least."

It's been a fairly easy war this time around, in part because the left was ready for her and in part because so much of what she's written has proven easily debunked. (Back in August, I took a look at what she wrote about Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who's been advising the White House on healthcare reform; that post is here.) The media was ready for her too, aware of how much she'd gotten wrong in "No Exit" and of her troubled history since then. As a result, the false claims she's made have gotten little or no traction in the mainstream press.

McCaughey had another bad day Tuesday, when she went on MSNBC for another confrontation with Weiner, this time moderated -- sort of -- by host Dylan Ratigan. The debate eventually devolved to the point where no one came off looking mature ("Takes one to know one" was one of Ratigan's retorts), but the segment showed McCaughey scrambling, unable to defend her positions and totally outmatched. It was just one more sign of how far she's fallen.

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Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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