Failing Conservatives Flail About


Today is the Failure of Conservatism Conference , hosted by Campaign for America’s Future and The American Prospect , which will seek to make the case that “the failures of the Bush administration—from Katrina to Iraq—are more than a matter of incompetence and cronyism. They are a matter of ideology.”

Conservatives, of course, are busy trying to salvage their ideology’s reputation. They are trying to distance conservatism from Bush’s deeply unpopular presidency. And they are looking to shift blame whenever possible.

For example, when the conservative Washington Examiner editorial board learned about the Failure of Conservatism event, they didn’t directly challenge the conference’s premise. Instead, they took pot shots at a single speaker in hopes of deflecting attention away from their right-wing brethren.

Their target was famed lawyer William Lerach, who conservatives don’t like because his track record of holding irresponsible corporations accountable in the courtroom.

The Washington Examiner attacked him for “becoming rich from contingency fees won in legions of class action lawsuits that engendered the ‘jackpot justice’ system now estimated to cost American consumers more than $246 billion annually”. For good measure, the editorial threw in that his former law firm has been indicted for an alleged kickback scheme, while perfunctorily noting he is not facing any charges.

In its haste to find someone to attack, the Washington Examiner neglected to double-check the speaker’s list. Lerach actually isn’t going to be addressing the conference, though a colleague from his firm will.

Also, it’s hard to get worked up over the federal indictment when the Justice Department has become so politicized—with U.S. attorneys purged for putting the law ahead of politics, and others possibly kept for playing ball with their partisan bosses. The U.S. attorney who sought the indictment of Lerach’s former firm, Debra Yang, was at one point looking into the activities of GOP Rep. Jerry Lewis. But then, Yang resigned and signed a fat contract with the law firm representing Rep. Lewis.

That doesn’t automatically mean the indictment of Corporate America’s least favorite law firm was pursued for political reasons, but the cloud over the Justice Department is long and dark enough that it’s impossible to rule out the possibility.

But less important than the attack on the person, is the attempt to blame litigation against irresponsible corporations for the weakness in our economy, for the “chilling effect on economic innovation.”

It’s telling that the Washington Examiner didn’t bother giving a source for that breathy $246 billion statistic. That’s because it’s baseless.

The Center for Justice and Democracy reports  that it comes from a little-known insurance consulting firm called Tillinghast-Towers Perrin, the number is “bogus,” and “its annual release is little more than a public relations gimmick used by the special interests behind the national ‘tort reform’ movement.  In fact, true tort system costs are likely impossible to honestly calculate because court systems do not accurately track such costs. Tillinghast does not even attempt to examine them…”.

The corporations behind the tort reform movement have long tried to portray their attempts to shield themselves from tough penalties as good for consumers and the economy. But how is it good for the economy when a jury punishes a Texas chemical plant with 30 fatalities on its watch by levying $110 million in damages, and a tort reform law automatically reduces it to a relatively minor $3 million. Instead of justice delivered by our peers and a deterrent against future bad behavior, tort reform lets corporations not-so-figuratively get away with murder.

Transparent shilling for irresponsible corporations is part of what got conservatives in trouble back in November. The damage done to our economy by conservatism will be explored in detail at today’s conference. Conservatives interested in saving themselves and rehabbing their philosophy would be well advised to pay attention. It would do more for them than sputtering the same old misleading spin.


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