Thursday, July 29, 2004

New Day, Old Points

In the third installment of “The Point” from the site of the Democratic National Convention, Mark Hyman again failed to follow through on his promise to actually cover the convention. For the third time in as many days, Hyman recycled dusty Republican Party talking points and delivered an editorial that could just as easily have been penned a month ago.

This time, the subject was that conservative chestnut, “frivolous lawsuits.” The only thing that made the commentary timely in any way was that it was delivered on the day that John Edwards, the Democratic nominee for vice president and a former lawyer, gave his acceptance speech. But rather than discuss Edwards’ voting record in the Senate on legal issues, or even his specific history as a trial lawyer, Hyman used one of the few rhetorical tricks he has in his bag: meaningless juxtaposition. He begins by suggesting that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is considering “breaking with tradition” by endorsing President Bush because the prospect of a Kerry-Edwards administration is so fearful for businesses.

Of course, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long-standing relationship with the current administration and is not the non-partisan organization that Hyman’s words suggest.

Hyman then brings up the name of Fred Baron, a prominent attorney and Democratic fundraiser (who was featured prominently in the official Bush campaign talking points that were released immediately after the announcement of Edwards as the VP nominee). Citing a Baron quotation from the 1990s as evidence that lawyers hope to wield influence in the Senate, Hyman then notes that Baron is now associated with the Kerry-Edwards campaign and will have an “open door” to a Kerry White House.

The incredible danger in having a prominent attorney connected to the White House (as opposed to, say, oil executives or corrupt energy company CEOs ) is that, according to Hyman, trial lawyers are opposed to “reasonable” lawsuit reforms.

As an odd footnote to the commentary, Hyman cryptically says (without any citation of a source or further explanation) that the Kerry campaign has recently returned $44,000 in “suspect” campaign funds from a Los Angeles lawyer.

Of course, “trial lawyers” is Republican code-talk for the groups that trial lawyers traditionally represent: consumers, medical patients, environmental groups, and others with grievances against large corporations. For example, John Edwards has been ridiculed for taking a case dubbed “the Jacuzzi case” as an example of his participation in needless lawsuits. In the case in question, a young girl had most of her intestines torn out of her body by the suction of a hot tub while her father watched. The model of tub in question had been responsible for a dozen similar injuries in the past without the company doing anything to correct the problem. How dare Edwards work on behalf of a child and her family after being needlessly maimed by the negligence of corporation!

It’s also the case that the Bush family, Republicans in general, and the Chamber of Commerce have no problems with trial lawyers becoming involved in politics when they happen to be Republican. The current Republican nominee for Senate in Florida, endorsed by both Jeb Bush and the Chamber of Commerce, is (you guessed it) a wealthy trial lawyer.

The balance between the ability of businesses and doctors not to avoid being targeted for unfair lawsuits and the ability of consumers to seek justifiable damages when hurt by negligent actions is a difficult and complex issue, one that is central to a society that operates under a free market economic system but is also ruled by laws that demand accountability and fairness. But, as always, it’s too much to expect “The Point” to deal with such issues in an intellectually responsible and consistent way when there’s even a possibility of cheap and easy political points being made.

And that’s the Counterpoint.


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