Obama for Tort Reform?
We’re being outfoxed here, guys. And not just in the sense that has been discussed all over the blogosphere over the past week (like here), after both Senators Obama and Clinton did interviews on the notoriously biased Fox News Station. But we're also outfoxing ourselves by allowing influential leaders to discuss the issues that affect us in very misleading ways, without holding them accountable.
I consider it very unfortunate that a prime example comes from Senator Obama’s Fox interview, wherein he touted his support for tort “reform” as an instance in which he transcended party politics. One assumes he is referring to his vote in favor of the Class Action Fairness Act (go here to see why CAFA is no good for middle class Americans). Chris Wallace asked Senator Obama:
On some issues where Democrats have moved to the center… you stay on the left and you are against both. And so people say, "Do you really want a partnership with Republicans, or do you really want unconditional surrender from them?"
To which he responded:
No, look, I think this is fair. I would point out, though, for example, that when I voted for a tort reform measure that was fiercely opposed by the trial lawyers, I got attacked pretty hard from the left.
In general, Senator Obama was characteristically diplomatic during the interview. Maybe the folks over at Fox are a little disappointed that Obama did not give them much of a show, but I think they'll soon be pleased to see that the way he handled this opportunity actually played into their agenda.
The fatal flaw in Obama's response is that it characterizes a vote for tort “reform” as a refusal to cave in to those "trial lawyers" (and by proxy the Dems, I guess)--a common trick used to subsume the relevance this issue has for ordinary citizens who just want to live in safety from dangerous products, fraud, and unnecessary injury.
Yes, trial lawyers make a living off of successful lawsuits. So does the defense bar--actually, the defense bar often makes money either way a trial gets resolved. But with respect to tort "reforms" that eliminate or severely limit a person's right to get into court in the first place or to obtain adequate compensation, or to otherwise hold a wrongdoing corporation accountable, much more is at stake than lawyers' fees...We're talking about the rights of regular people not to be defrauded, discriminated against, unlawfully harmed, etc., and our ability to enforce our rights through the civil courts.
So all that to say we’re severely missing the point if we think of Obama’s vote for CAFA merely as an ideological divergence from the majority of his Democratic colleagues. Indeed, most Republican voters would be just as freaked out as their Dem counterparts, about tort “reform” and what it does to their rights. Just read the insights of conservative civil justice activist Jordan Fogal for some enlightenment on this. If we all knew the extent to which tort “reform” affects our lives as consumers, employees, and citizens who want to live a safe and healthy life, none of us would be in favor of it. Unfortunately, this isn't discussed very much, especially not in the mass media.
In the same Fox Interview, Obama said he wants to "do what works for the American people." In another speech he added that "people want some help in stabilizing their lives... and that's what we should be talking about today." I'd suggest then, that the Senator start talking about strengthening the civil justice system and stop talking about the mistakes of his past votes for harmful tort "reform".
And because Obama embraces a politics of listening to constituents and has spoken at length about the importance of regular people feeling like their voices are heard, it is very important that we pay attention to things like this, voice our concerns about them, and observe whether this makes any impact at all on how our legal rights are discussed.
Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 3:35 PM, May 02, 2008 in Debunking Tort "Reform" | Decision 2008 | Framing Tort "Reform" | Presidential Election
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