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Betsy McCaughey

In office
January 1, 1995 – December 31, 1998
Governor George Pataki
Preceded by Stan Lundine
Succeeded by Mary Donohue

Born October 20, 1948 (1948-10-20) (age 61)[1]
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Political party Republican (Democrat in 1997-1998)
Profession U.S. Constitutional historian, Political commentator

Betsy McCaughey (born Elizabeth Helen Peterken, October 20, 1948, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) was the Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York from 1995 to 1998, during the first term of Republican Governor George Pataki. She has provided commentary on United States constitutional law and healthcare policy.

McCaughey was also listed as a member of the board of directors of the Cantel Medical Corporation until she resigned on August 20, 2009.


Early life, education, and family

McCaughey and her twin brother William, were born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the daughter and son of Albert Peterken, a janitor at a factory,[2] and his wife, Ramona.[3] The family moved around the Northeast before settling in Westport, Connecticut, where her father was a maintenance worker at a nail clipper factory,[4] when she was six years old. McCaughey attended public schools in Westport through the 10th grade. For 11th and 12th grades, she attended the Mary A. Burnham School, a college preparatory boarding school in Northampton, Massachusetts ninety miles away from home, on a scholarship, graduating in 1966.

McCaughey then went on another scholarship to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she majored in history, wrote her senior thesis on Karl Marx and Alexis de Tocqueville, won Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman Fellowships, and graduated with a B.A. with distinction in 1970.[5]A year after she graduated, her mother died of liver disease at the age of 42.[6]

After Vassar, McCaughey went to graduate school at Columbia University in New York City to study history, earning a M.A. in 1972 and a Ph.D. in U.S. constitutional history in 1976.[5] Her Ph.D. dissertation on William Samuel Johnson was awarded the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Bancroft Dissertation Award for outstanding dissertation in American History (including biography), diplomacy, or international affairs, in 1976.[7] It was published as a book, From Loyalist to Founding Father: The Political Odyssey of William Samuel Johnson, by Columbia University Press in 1980.[8] She also contributed a chapter about William Samuel Johnson to William Fowler and Wallace Coyle's 1979 book, The American Revolution: Changing Perspectives.[9]

In 1972, she married Thomas K. McCaughey, a Yale graduate she had met in college and who was then moving up as an investment banker.[10] While completing her Ph.D., McCaughey trained in the corporate banking department at Chase Manhattan Bank, and served as a lending officer in the Food, Beverage, and Tobacco Division.[11]

The McCaugheys separated in 1992 and divorced in 1994 with McCaughey granted joint custody of their three daughters.[12] In October 1994, The Village Voice reported that McCaughey had stated in a January 23, 1993 affidavit that she had virtually no employment experience: "Throughout my 18 years of marriage, my annual earnings were mostly zero and never exceeded $20,000 except in that one year [1990], when I sold an idea to Fox television for a windfall once-in-a-lifetime sum of $75,000.[10][13] She married investment banker Wilbur Ross, Jr. in December 1995,[14]; the couple divorced in November 1998.[15]

U.S. Constitutional historian

Interrupted by years off to have and care for three daughters, McCaughey taught history as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Vassar College in 1977–1978, a Lecturer at Columbia University in 1979–1980, and an Assistant Professor at Columbia University in 1981–1983 teaching two classes per year, followed by a 1983–1984 National Endowment for the Humanities post-doc fellowship.[10][13]

From 1986 to 1988, McCaughey was a guest curator at the New-York Historical Society responsible for its four-month exhibit titled "Government by Choice: Inventing the United States Constitution" that opened on September 17, 1987 to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution and authored an accompanying book published in 1987 by Basic Books that cataloged the exhibit.[16]

Opinion columnist

From 1989 to 1992, after considering becoming a television journalist[17] McCaughey was a senior scholar at the Center for the Study of the Presidency where she wrote one article,[18] three book reviews,[19][20][21] and one guest editorial[22] for its journal, Presidential Studies Quarterly (PSQ), and was a member of its Panel on Presidential Selection that assembled in Arlington, Virginia in August 1992 that produced a report suggesting constitutional amendments to fix flaws in the Electoral College,[23] after having testified at a July 22, 1992 hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.[24] McCaughey also wrote eight op-ed columns over three years for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and USA Today, in which she:

In February 1993, the John M. Olin Foundation funded a fellowship at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank (where a friend on its board of trustees had recommended McCaughey to its president), for McCaughey to write a book on race and the legal system to be titled Beyond Pluralism: Overcoming the Narcissism of Minor Differences. McCaughey wrote three op-ed columns over the next six months in The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, in which she:

The New Republic article No Exit

On September 7, 1993, the Clinton administration began briefing congressional staff members on its draft healthcare reform plan, which was soon leaked to interest groups and the press, with details and analysis of it first published by The New York Times and The Washington Post on September 11, 1993. McCaughey, skeptical of what had been reported about the Clinton health plan,[36][37] asked for and received a copy of the draft health care reform plan from the office of U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford (D-PA) the following week.[38]

On September 22, 1993, U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered a nationally televised speech about his health care reform plan to a joint session of Congress. From September 28–30, 1993, First Lady Hillary Clinton testified about the health care reform plan before five congressional committees over three days. On September 30, 1993, the last day of Hillary Clinton's congressional committee testimony, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by McCaughey, who said she had read and reread the 239-page draft health care reform plan and concluded that the plan differed markedly from the Clinton White House's public statements and that the plan would in her opinion have "devastating consequences." [38]

On October 27, 1993, President Clinton presented his Health Security Act bill to the U.S. Congress in the Capitol's National Statuary Hall—the 1,342-page (in large print and double-spaced) bill was distributed to the press for free on two diskettes and went on sale at noon to the public in print for $45 from the Government Printing Office.

On November 20, 1993, after passage of NAFTA on the last day of the 1993 session of Congress, the Health Security Act was introduced in the U.S. House as H.R. 3600 by House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO-3) with 99 cosponsors and introduced in the U.S. Senate as S.1757 by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-ME) with 28 cosponsors. On November 22, 1993, the Wall Street Journal published another op-ed by McCaughey, who said she had pored over the 1,342-page Health Security Act bill and concluded that its price controls would cause rationing and in her opinion was "dangerous."[39]


Publication and impact

Martin Peretz, the owner and editor-in-chief of the magazine, The New Republic (TNR), was a longtime friend and mentor of Al Gore and (though Peretz thought Bill Clinton was "loathsome")[40] his magazine had endorsed Clinton-Gore in 1992, but opposed the Clinton health plan—endorsing instead the less ambitious rival managed competition health plan of Blue Dog Democrat U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN-4)—and thought welfare reform should be a higher priority than healthcare reform. Peretz read and liked McCaughey's two Wall Street Journal op-ed columns about Clinton's health plan and commissioned her to expand them into an article for a TNR cover story. McCaughey's five-page article "No Exit" was featured as the cover story in the February 7, 1994 issue of TNR, published a few days before President Clinton's January 25, 1994 State of the Union address. The article was illustrated with a caricature of Hillary Clinton.[41] According to James Dao of The New York Times, it was "the project that made her famous."[5] In the words of Tom Wolfe, "[t]hat one article shot down the entire blimp."[42]

The televised Republican response to Clinton's State of the Union speech by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) featured some of McCaughey's arguments against the Clinton health plan; neoconservative Bill Kristol's Project for the Republican Future quickly launched television advertisements attacking the Clinton health plan featuring McCaughey's two Wall Street Journal op-ed columns and TNR article—to complement the "Harry and Louise" television advertisements by the Health Insurance Association of America (HIAA); and conservative opinion columnist George Will used McCaughey's two Wall Street Journal op-ed columns and TNR article as a starting point for Newsweek "Final Word" columns that predicted the Clinton health plan would kill patients and make it illegal for patients to pay doctors directly for care—with 15-year jail terms for patients who tried to do so.[43][44]

Criticism from the White House

On January 31, 1994, the Clinton White House issued a 9-page analysis of McCaughey's TNR article "No Exit" that said the article contained "numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements."[45]

McCaughey responded to the White House press office criticism in a February 28, 1994 follow-up article in TNR entitled "She's Baaack!" In her response, McCaughey opened by noting that she welcomed the opportunity to debate the health bill, but intimated that "White House representatives" had failed to address their criticism to specific passages of her original article. After presenting counterarguments to particular criticisms, McCaughey concluded "She's Baaack!" with the assertion that its factual claims "straight from the text of the bill, demonstrate the accuracy of my article 'No Exit.'"[46]

"No Exit," the White House response, and ensuing television and radio interviews with McCaughey made her a star.[10] A 1995 profile in The Washington Post said "Her toothy good looks, body-conscious suits, Vassar BA and Columbia PhD reduced right-wingers to mush."[10] Manhattan Institute president William Hammett said "I remember I was driving one night in the middle of the San Joaquin Valley from Tahoe to L.A. I was listening to Rush Limbaugh, and they were going on and on about Betsy McCaughey. I thought, God, this is amazing."[10]

Debate over the article within The New Republic

McCaughey's "No Exit" won the National Magazine Award for excellence in the public interest. Supporters of the Clinton plan were vociferous in their criticism of McCaughey's criticism. Andrew Sullivan, The New Republic's then-editor later acknowledged "I was aware of the piece's flaws but nonetheless was comfortable running it as a provocation to debate."[47] While the article was seized by conservative commentators seeking to discredit the Clinton plan, critics questioned the claims it made, particularly, her claims that "the law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," and that "doctor[s] can be paid only by the plan, not by you." Proponents of the Clinton plan claimed that this was contradicted by the text of the legislation.[48][49]

The "TRB from Washington" column by Michael Kinsley[50] and an article by Yale public policy professor Theodore Marmor and Yale law professor Jerry Mashaw criticized McCaughey's "No Exit" article as being confused and misleading in the February 14, 1994 issue of TNR.[51] After Editor Franklin Foer assumed creative control of The New Republic in early 2006, the magazine recanted the story and apologized for it as part of the magazine's effort in "returning the magazine to its liberal roots." Foer said, "It was a very famous piece that actually won the New Republic some national magazine awards.... We recanted that story in the first issue and apologized for it, and we’ve been stridently opposed to Bush pretty much on a whole array of views. So that makes us look more to the left, too."[52]

Despite the magazine's recantation and academic refutations, McCaughey's article may have contributed to the failure of the Clinton health plan to gather enough support to pass in Congress.[53]

Citing an March 1994 internal memo by tobacco company Philip Morris, a 2009 piece by Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone revealed that McCaughey had collaborated with representatives of Philip Morris when writing "No Exit", as part of a larger strategy by the company to place stories opposing the health care plan with what the memo termed "friendly contacts in the media".[54] The memo cited McCaughey by name as one of these, stating, "Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan."[54] McCaughey declined comment on the story.[54]

Political career in New York

McCaughey was a political novice at the time of her election as lieutenant governor, a trait which led to her being billed as an "unpolitician."[3] McCaughey said of her status as a political rookie, "[t]here are many people who are glad that I'm in public office and supportive of the fact and don't care that I'm not a seasoned politician.... Many New Yorkers see that as a plus."[5] Joseph Fried of The New York Times opined that Pataki had chosen her to gain female votes.[55]

She and George Pataki did not know each other when he asked her to be his running-mate. Joseph Fried of The New York Times later opined that Pataki "saw in her a political neophyte liked by conservatives and attractive to many independent voters and women."[56] According to Buffalo journalist Sharon Linstedt, McCaughey's "skillful, reasoned dissection of the [healthcare plan] earned her a round of talk show appearances, plus an appearance in Vanity Fair..."[3] McCaughey said she accepted the nomination believing she could work with Pataki on similar policy issues.

She was initially tasked by Pataki to work on Medicaid reform and education policy.[5] She had a famous clash with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the Capitol lobby over the budget.[3] After that, tensions between McCaughey and Pataki rose after a number of public disagreements between them over healthcare and early childhood education.[57]

In the spring of 1997, Pataki announced that McCaughey would not be his running mate in 1998. Pataki later selected State Supreme Court Justice Mary Donohue to replace McCaughey.

In 1997, though she had always voted Republican in presidential elections (voting successively for Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush, and Dole), McCaughey officially became a Democrat.[17] McCaughey later announced her candidacy for the 1998 Democratic nomination for Governor.[17] McCaughey was the early frontrunner for her new party,[58] in part because of her statewide name recognition and financial support from her husband.[59] In the early part of the campaign, State Comptroller Carl McCall said that he would not support McCaughey if she became the Democratic nominee. New York political figures who supported McCaughey's bid included Manhattan Assemblyman Scott Stringer[60] and Erie County Assemblyman Sam Hoyt.[61] She was defeated in the nomination race by New York City councilman Peter Vallone.

McCaughey earlier received the nomination of the Liberal Party for that office. However, without a coalition ticket the party attracted little support and received only 1.65% of the vote in the gubernatorial race.

Career since leaving office

Since leaving office in 1998, McCaughey has been an adjunct fellow affiliated with the New York office of the conservative Hudson Institute, where her areas of specialization include American politics, constitutional law, and health care policy. McCaughey also joined the board of directors of the Cantel Medical Corporation, which bills itself as "dedicated to infection prevention and control."[62]

Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths

McCaughey works on patient advocacy and health care policy issues. In 2005, she founded the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID) and serves as its chairperson. The organization is, according to its website, "a non-profit organization devoted solely to providing safer, cleaner, hospital care."[63] The organization was formed in reaction to the alarming rise in Health Care-Associated MRSA and other hospital-borne infections.[64] RID argues that such infections are easily preventable with rigorous application of appropriate hygiene protocols, and "suggests that the overwhelming evidence that these hospital infections are preventable will cause the next wave of class-action lawsuits."[65]

Medicare's new policy bars hospitals from billing patients or the Federal Government for such treatment. "Hospitals should have to absorb the cost of treating errors and infections they caused," she asserted in a news release.[66]

American Cancer Society critic

Following a September 2007 McCaughey Wall Street Journal op-ed column attacking the American Cancer Society's Access to Care initiative,[67] libertarian economist John Goodman, co-founder and president of the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), asked McCaughey to expand her op-ed into a NCPA Brief Analysis[68] giving her calculations of cancer "survival rates" from cancer mortality and incidence statistics from a NBER Working Paper by Republican free-market economist June O'Neill[69] and McCaughey's analysis of a Lancet Oncology article comparing estimated five-year relative survival rates for sixteen types of cancer in parts of Europe and the United States.[70]

Commentary on 2009 Health Reform

On February 9, 2009, McCaughey published an op-ed on claiming that there were several major health provisions hidden in the Obama administration's pending stimulus legislation. In the piece, entitled "Ruin Your Health with the Obama Stimulus Plan," McCaughey cited Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle's advice to the President to offer health reform legislation quickly, before any opposition could build. "If that means attaching a health-care plan to the federal budget, so be it," a statement Daschle included in his book Critical.[71]

She argued against establishment of a Federal Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. She argued that this method of assessing effectiveness uses a formula "that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis."[71] She claimed that one of the provisions "would make it mandatory … that people [on] Medicare [be told] how to end their lives sooner"; she went so far as to label such protocols as "euthanasia for the elderly."[72] McCaughey has expressed concern that the primary purpose for the expansion of a federally required electronic medical network was not simply to offer patients the convenience of quickly retrievable medical records but to deliver to their doctors protocols and guidelines defining "appropriate" and "cost effective care." She claimed that physicians and hospitals that fail to meet the HHS Secretary's standard for meaningful use of these guidelines will be subject of financial penalties from Medicare. In her original Bloomberg op-ed and a follow-up press release,[73] McCaughey warned of the possible impact on doctor autonomy.

FactCheck published an article on February 20, 2009, refuting McCaughey's claims about the legislation.[74] The organization later updated and revised the article after McCaughey issued a press release on February 23 to respond to FactCheck's criticism.[75] In December 2009, the progressive media watchdog organization MediaMatters named McCaughey "Health Care Misinformer of the Year" for what it called her "relentless[] attack[s on] health care reform by spreading falsehoods and distortions."[76]

McCaughey maintained her position that the new laws could threaten the pace of medical advances and the flexibility of physicians in tailoring treatment regimens to individual patients.[75]

McCaughey states that some "U.S. Senators were so concerned about the meaning of 'comparative effectiveness' that the Senate version of the stimulus legislation replaced that term with 'clinical effectiveness.'" However, the change was overturned when House and Senate conferred on a final version of the legislation. Representative Charles Boustany Jr. from Louisiana, a heart surgeon, told the New York Times he feared the research would be used to 'deny life-saving treatment to seniors and disabled people.'"[75] McCaughey said "Americans should demand that these health provision" in the stimulus legislation "be repealed and offered as separate legislation so their impact can be further assessed."[75]

In August 2009, WNYC's On the Media addressed McCaughey's euthanasia for the elderly claim. The provision actually mandated that the federal government compensate senior citizens requesting "counseling sessions" on elder law, such as estate planning, "will writing and hospice care." Her choice of words was described by The Atlantic's James Fallows as inaccurate and sensationalistic,[72] and earned her a "pants on fire" (least true) rating from the Pulitzer prize winning fact check site, Politifact. When interviewed by Fred Thomson McCaughey said the "mandatory ... absolutely require" language can be found on page 425 of the health care bill "Advance Care Planning Consultation", Section 1233. According to PolitiFact, the end-of-life counseling is not mandatory. It is voluntary.[77]

Betsy McCaughey's statements on H.R. 3200 Advance Care Planning Consultation page 425[78] and Ezekiel Emanuel[79] led to Sarah Palin's death panel controversy.[78][80][81] In a New York Post opinion article, Ezekiel Emanuel was described by McCaughey as a "Deadly Doctor."[82] The article, which accused Emanuel of advocating healthcare rationing by age and disability, was quoted from on the floor of the House of Representatives by Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.[83] The nonpartisan Web site described this claim as a "ridiculous falsehood."[84][85][86][87] said, "We agree that Emanuel’s meaning is being twisted. In one article, he was talking about a philosophical trend, and in another, he was writing about how to make the most ethical choices when forced to choose which patients get organ transplants or vaccines when supplies are limited."[88][89] An article on said that Emanuel "was only addressing extreme cases like organ donation, where there is an absolute scarcity of resources ... 'My quotes were just being taken out of context.'"[90] In the late 1990s, when many doctors wanted to legalize euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, Emanuel opposed it. He challenged a common stereotype of patients expressing interest in euthanasia. In most cases, he found, the patients were not in excruciating pain. They were depressed and did not want to be a burden to their loved ones.[91]

According to a Cantel press release, McCaughey resigned from the Board of Cantel Medical Corporation on August 20, 2009. The release stated that McCaughey resigned from the board of directors "to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over healthcare reform."[92] However, other reports indicate that McCaughey resigned the day following her appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart after negative reactions to her performance there.[93][94] McCaughey appeared as a guest on The Daily Show on August 20, 2009 to discuss the controversy around end-of-life healthcare provisions being debated by Congress, and according to many, she lost her argument with Stewart.[95][96] [97] After McCaughey's Daily Show appearance, James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly described her role in the healthcare debate: "She has brought more misinformation, more often, more destructively into America's consideration of health-policy issues than any other individual. She has no concept of "truth" or "accuracy" in the normal senses of those terms, as demonstrated last week when she went on The Daily Show."[98]

In an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Meeting on October 6, 2009[99], McCaughey advocated gradually extending the minimum age for Medicare coverage upward from 65 years of age to 70 in order to keep the Medicare system solvent.

New York Governor/Lieutenant Governor tickets

1994 Republican Party and Conservative Party tickets:

  • Governor: George Pataki
  • Lieutenant Governor: Betsy McCaughey

1998 Liberal Party ticket:

  • Governor: Betsy M. Ross
  • Lieutenant Governor: Jonathan Reiter


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  17. ^ a b c Schwartzman, Paul. "Hey, it's her party. The rags-to-riches tale of a girl from a troubled home who embraced the GOP, then the Democrats, in her determined quest for the statehouse." Daily News (New York). July 12, 1998, p. 26. [10]
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  21. ^ McCaughey, Elizabeth. "Book review: James MacGregor Burns, Cobblestone leadership: majority rule, minority power." Presidential Studies Quarterly. Spring 1991, pp. 371–373.
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  24. ^ U.S. Senate. The Electoral College and direct election of the President: hearing before the Subcommittee on the Constitution of the Committee on the Judiciary, July 22, 1992. (1993). Washington: U.S. G.P.O. ISBN 016041444X. pp. 102–109, 112, 117–119.
  25. ^ McCaughey, Elizabeth. "Perverting the Voting Rights Act." The Wall Street Journal. October 25, 1989, p. 1.
  26. ^ McCaughey, Elizabeth P. "New York City's dangerous quotas." The Wall Street Journal. March 6, 1991, p. A8.
  27. ^ McCaughey, Elizabeth. "The real Clarence Thomas: On the eve of the hearings: A record of judicial restraint." The New York Times. September 9, 1991, p. A15.
  28. ^ McCaughey, Elizabeth. "Judgeships should be color-blind." The New York Times. March 23, 1992. Page A17.
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  31. ^ McCaughey, Elizabeth P. "Abortion ruling is right." USA Today. June 30, 1992, p. 10A. [13]
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  37. ^ Porter, Henry. "The real McCaughey." Vanity Fair. May 1994, pp. 140–141. Then last September, when she was reading about the health plan in the newspapers, she suddenly became obsessed ... What scholars do in these circumstances is go back to the original source. So she acquired a copy of the plan, took it to bed with her one evening, and ended up reading for most of the night.
  38. ^ a b McCaughey, Elizabeth. "Health plan's devilish details." The Wall Street Journal. September 30, 1993. Page A18.
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  49. ^ Section 1003 of the Health Security Act provided that "[n]othing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting the following: (1) An individual from purchasing any health care services." House Bill 3600. February 4, 1994. [22]
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External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Stan Lundine
Lieutenant Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Mary Donohue
Party political offices
Preceded by
Mario Cuomo
Liberal Party Nominee for Governor of New York
Succeeded by
Andrew Cuomo


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