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Frist and Edwards
Sit Down and Shut Up.

by Barnabas
July 16, 2003

Frist and Edwards_Barnabas-Sit Down and Shut Up.
It is a society with an odd sense of justice that awards millions of dollars to every 25th victim of what may or may not have been a botched operation but doesn't guarantee basic health care to anyone.
—Michael Kinsley, Washington Post, July 11.
Kinsley isn’t accurate when he says that we do not guarantee basic health care to anyone, because we do for many if not all of the disabled poor who are part of Social Security. But I quoted him not for his shot at health care, but for his beautiful phrase, “an odd sense of justice.” This is the second week in a row I have quoted Kinsley, so for the benefit of the Can’t-Stand-Kinsley group among my readers, I promise to stay away from him next week.

A society with an odd sense of justice, of course, has no sense of justice at all. Justice is pretty plain stuff, straight up and above board: justice in the old-fashioned sense of being fair and Doing the Right Thing. I’m not suggesting that this concept is unknown in Congress, but I am suggesting that it appears to have no motivational force At least the stories I have read about the malpractice debate in the Senate haven’t been about justice. They’ve been about political advantage and manipulation.. In the Senate, a productive day is one in which you embarrass your opponents.

The stories have also been about the surgeon who is Majority Leader of the Senate and the malpractice lawyer who is running for President. Now it would be real news if the surgeon supported punitive damages for malpractice, and the lawyer supported capping malpractice awards. But no; they are saying exactly what you would expect surgeons and lawyers to say: they sound more like lobbyists than legislators. Some of us are old-fashioned enough to say that they should both stay out of this debate. On this issue they are each representing special interests, not public ones. Their respective states didn’t send them to Washington to represent their unions.

I am sure there is a silenced minority on both sides of the aisle, though I don’t know its size, committed to a just resolution of the malpractice crisis. But until serious issues like these are dealt with by the White House and the leadership of Congress on their merits and not on their political impact, this minority had just well go home and do something useful, like can the beans from their garden plots.

Forty-five years ago or so, Harry Golden said that the reason more juveniles were getting into trouble with police was that the cops were the first people to give them an order and make it stick. The analogy is not a pure one, but I think it will work.

It’s unfair to the public to say we have become a litigious society because we are greedier and more self-centered than earlier generations. A more serious reason is that the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch no longer care enough about justice to make just laws and to repeal unjust ones. Both branches are given over almost entirely to political considerations. So we flock to the Judicial branch for clarity--the only government entity left that may, at least occasionally, care about justice and “make it stick.”

About the Author:
Barnabas is neither a surgeon nor a lawyer, and has never retained one to sue the other.

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