The Presidential parallel-bar routine.

The Bush attack machine has invested substantial effort, not without success, in convincing the country that John Kerry “flip-flops” on the issues. Mickey Kaus has spent a large number of bytes elaborating on the distinction between a “flip-flop” and a “straddle” (usually concluding that Kerry is simultaneously guilty of both).

So I’m trying to see how that analysis might apply to George W. Bush’s record on the “patient’s bill of rights”: a law that would require insurers and HMOs to pay for all “medically indicated” treatment, which in effect means whatever the doctors, chiropractors, etc., want to do and get paid for. I’m not sure such a law is a good idea, but that’s not the point for the moment.

I’m doing this mostly from memory, so don’t hold me to every detail, but here’s the outline as I understand it:

As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush was publicly “neutral” on a patient’s bill of rights, while lobbying behind the scenes to kill it. I think that’s a “straddle.”

Having allowed the bill to become law without his signature, he then claimed credit for it, and promised to support such a bill if elected President. That, I suppose, must be a “flip-flop.”

As President, he says he’s in favor of the bill but again has lobbied, this time successfully, to keep it from coming to a vote in Congress (e.g., attached to the Medicare bill). Another straddle.

His administration intervened on the side of the HMOs in the Supreme Court case that just struck down the Texas law as inconsistent with federal law. Is that a flip-flop, or a straddle? And if the latter, is it part of the same straddle, or is it a new straddle? (You can see this stuff is really hard; good thing Mickey is so smart.) I think I’m going to call this a new straddle, but I’m open to correction.

So having helped kill all state laws that do the thing he says he’s for, and having refused to support a federal law that would do the thing he says he’s for, or even a lesser law that would allow the states to do the thing he says he’s for, the President’s spokesman says the President is still for a patient’s bill of rights. I think it’s hard to call that either a flip-flop, since the President’s actual position remains what it has always been, or a new straddle, since the President’s rhetorical position also remains what it has always been. It’s just that the actual and rhetorical positions are opposite to one another.

So I think this latest move has to be called neither a flip-flop nor a straddle, but simply a lie.

To recapitulate: The President has executed a straddle to a flip-flop to a double straddle to a lie. That sequence of moves has a degree of difficulty of 2.8. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.

Just remember this the next time someone tells you that, agree with him or not, at least you know where Mr. Bush stands.

Update It turns out (two readers report) that Gov. Bush actually vetoed the patient’s bill of rights the first time it reached his desk, and only let it become law without his signature the second time because it had passed both houses of the Texas legislature by veto-proof majorities.

So the actual routine was even more complicated than I had given Mr. Bush credit for: a flip-flop to a straddle to a another flip-flop to a double straddle to a lie. That raises the degree of difficulty to an astonishing 3.1. Don’t misunderestimate these folks.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

2 thoughts on “Acrobatics”

  1. Patients' Bill of Rights

    You'll be hearing more about this, but as a primer read Mark A. R. Kleiman's review of Bush's gymnastics on the subject, and here is Pelosi's statement from just after the Supreme Court decision was held down: "Today's Supreme Court…

  2. Patients’ Bill of Rights

    You’ll be hearing more about this, but as a primer read Mark A. R. Kleiman’s review of Bush’s gymnastics on the subject, and here is Pelosi’s statement from just after the Supreme Court decision was held down: “Today’s Supreme Court…

Comments are closed.