The last couple of days I’ve been commenting (venting? flaming?) on the way California’s lawyers defeated Props 200, 201 and 202.

Basically, they did it by lying — and by enlisting some very well respected liberal groups (whom I generally support and admire) to their cause.

But it’s more interesting than that. Some of the lies, it’s true, were just plain old flat out lies. (E.g., if Prop 202 passed, they said, it would be impossible to find a lawyer willing to work on contingency. Poor people would have to hire lawyers at $300 an hour or be denied access to justice. Simply not true.)

But two of the biggest lies were even more maddening. There’s probably even a debating term to describe the ploy. Maybe they teach it in law school. It is designed not only to win the argument when you’re wrong, but to so infuriate your opposition as to bring on a seizure. (Fortunately, only Hewlett-Packard co-founder David Packard, among our supporters, died during the campaign, and there’s no reason to think his death, at 83, was in any way related.)

The way it works, first you do something really rotten; then you point to that rotten thing itself as proof you’re right. Not very elegant the way I’ve phrased it, but highly effective the way they did it:

* First you sue Al Shugart, co-founder of Seagate Technology, three times for alleged insider trading (the first case was settled for pennies on the dollar to get rid of it, the second was thrown out of court after eating up $3 million in legal fees, the third is still pending); then you blanket the airwaves in his home state with commercials calling him a stock swindler because “he’s been sued three times for insider trading.” You morph his face back and forth with Charles Keating, the notorious convicted S&L felon, never mentioning that investors in Seagate — unlike investors in Lincoln Savings and Loan — have made, not lost, a pile of money.

* First you sabotage the early 1970s drive for no-fault auto insurance, by giving states where you couldn’t beat it “no-fault” in name only. (In states like Massachusetts there’s all the suing and fraud there is in California. You just need to chalk up $2,000 in medical bills to be eligible to sue. In Connecticut, the threshold was a mere $400. These thresholds merely give people an incentive to — often encouraged by attorneys — to get an MRI and a few chiropractic visits they don’t need.) Then, 25 years later when the next generation makes another run at it, you simply point to “no-fault” states like Massachusetts and Connecticut and say, “See? No-fault doesn’t save money. It’s a disaster. An old idea that hasn’t worked.”

That’s right: first sabotage it; then point to the wreckage to prove is doesn’t work. (In Michigan, the one state that comes fairly close to the true no-fault Prop 200 would have provided in California, people actually do pay substantially less for auto insurance than in California, while enjoying VASTLY better protection if they’re badly injured in a crash.)

Got to stop writing now. Feel that seizure coming on.

Tomorrow: How The Lawyers Co-opted the Left


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