First it was nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Then he was AWOL. After that came Plamegate. So, what pray tell will be the next left-wing attack on our president?
Potentially, the manner in which the Vioxx story was covered this weekend by the New York Times gives us some clues.
To begin with, a front-page article Saturday by Alex Berenson reported the surprise verdict that gave the widow of a man who died after taking Merck’s painkiller an astounding $253.5 million award including $229 million in punitive damages.
Just in case people missed it, the Times ran another article by Mr. Berenson on Sunday -- again on the front-page -- that appears to move this story in a suspiciously political direction:
The real explanation may lie in the "bad facts" that [plaintiff’s attorney] Mr. Lanier presented to the jury.
Bad facts? Sounds a little like the left’s accusations concerning WMDs, doesn’t it?
"There was an element of the Watergate tapes that I was reminded of: many people had been critical of Nixon for a long time, but even Nixon's critics did not expect to find the documentation of their worst fears made so clearly evident."
Amazing. How do you drag Watergate into a pharmaceutical negligence lawsuit?
In the courtroom immediately after the verdict, a reporter asked Mr. Lanier how he had won the case. "The documents," he replied. "The documents tell the truth."
Of course…it’s the documents. You could almost substitute the Downing Street memos.
To be sure, all we have here are allusions. But, the placement and timing of another front-page article in the Times on Saturday entitled “Sick and Scared and Waiting, Waiting, Waiting” is way too coincidental to be ignored:
Waiting has long been part of medicine. Patients like Ms. Odlum wait for test results; others spend weeks or months waiting for appointments or stranded for hours in doctors' waiting rooms.
But health care researchers say the waiting problem has only gotten worse. Advances in technology have created more tests and procedures to wait for, and new drugs and treatments mean more people need more doctor visits. Doctors' appointments for people over 45 increased by more than 20 percent in the last decade, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Emergency room visits increased by 23 percent, although the number of hospitals declined by 15 percent.
Voila, a strategy unfolds: First, this Vioxx verdict could be a gift that keeps on giving for the left inasmuch as there are currently over 4000 cases against Merck surrounding this drug, and with this award, analysts believe 100,000 more could be filed. This means that the press can keep this story on the front-page for many, many months.
Second, the American people are, in general, angered over the cost of healthcare and health insurance, and aching to blame their government for it if given ample cause.
Third, the Democrats in Congress are still eager to put the federal government in control of setting prices paid to pharmaceutical companies for all medications that are now covered under Medicare, a provision that failed to get enough support to be in the final prescription drug bill signed by Mr. Bush in October 2003.
Fourth, Plamegate appears to have fizzled out, the economy continues to hum along at a strong clip, and, regardless of the president’s sagging poll numbers, there has been no improvement in the perception of Democrats by the electorate that gives the left any comfort they will be able to win back the Congress in 2006, or the White House in 2008.
Add it all up, and this Vioxx issue represents an absolutely outstanding opportunity for the Democrats to tap into the public’s disgust with health insurance and healthcare costs, and put it all on the president’s doorstep. After all, a large number of Americans believe the accounting scandals that transpired in the late 90’s -- most notably Enron -- were all Bush’s fault even though they occurred before he was elected.
As such, if the left can convince the American people that Vioxx was approved by the Food and Drug Administration due to relaxed rules proposed by Republicans and supported by Mr. Bush, they can link this controversy to him much as they did Enron. In fact, this might not be too difficult given that Vioxx was approved for sale in 1999 with a Republican Congress, and after Bush had announced his candidacy for president.
Consequently, if the press can effectively articulate that this whole affair will translate into even higher health insurance premiums and healthcare expenses to the consumer due to the added costs to Merck as well as the increased errors and omissions insurance payments and legal fees for all pharmaceutical companies, the left can create an issue with legs and teeth that could become a hot-button in the next two campaigns.
Sound farfetched? Well, just consider that the majority of registered Democrats likely believe that we are currently in Iraq so that Vice President Cheney can profit from Halliburton’s activities there, as can Bush’s “oil buddies”. Moreover, it was fairly simple for the left to convince a large number of Americans that the 2003 Medicare bill was all about giving Bush’s “pharmaceutical buddies” a huge payday.
Given this, how tough will it be to sell the public on the idea that Vioxx is yet another instance of the president being controlled by the same corporate influences the left avows have pulled the strings since the first day he campaigned for governor of Texas?