Stephanie Mencimer, in a trolling post I really should just ignore, suggests that reformers are just “overprivileged white guys” who have “never flipped a burger” or driven an American car and whose “private schooling and Ivy League bona fides” mean we just want to stick it to the little guy.
Should I even respond? She’s right that I didn’t flip burgers; I just cleaned the restrooms and shelved milk at the local supermarket for $3.35/hour, manning the registers when the manager could bear the complaints about the checkout boy who was too stupid to know the difference between nectarines and peaches when ringing up produce. My brother did fry chicken at the Church’s down the street, however. But that doesn’t make my policy arguments any more correct. Nor does it make my arguments any more right because I spent weekends as a teenager going through dumpsters with my unemployed father as we looked for discarded Sunday newspapers because of the coupon inserts in them that we could hoard and use on triple-coupon day at the local grocery, or that I took a ninety-minute ride on public transportation (Algiers bus downtown, then St. Charles Ave. streetcar) to my racially-mixed public high school, or that I turned down admissions at both Yale undergrad and Yale Law because I couldn’t afford their financial aid packages, or that I didn’t own a car until a couple of weeks before my 29th birthday (and then it was a out-of-model-year Chevy Malibu that I bought by saving points on a GM credit card that I had maxed out), or that my 1999 third-quarter bonus was a cause for celebration because it allowed me to reach zero net worth, any more than it makes Mencimer’s arguments wrong because she lives in a house twice as large as mine and assessed at over a million dollars and, as a freelancer that doesn’t employ anyone, has little chance of directly suffering the consequences of lawsuit abuse and is wealthy enough not to feel the full pain of its indirect effects on job creation or consumer prices.
I stumbled into being a reformer because I saw first-hand that the litigation system wasn’t working; that judges were making lawless rulings; that plaintiffs were bringing and winning bogus products liability suits; that there were magnet jurisdictions where meritless class actions were being brought and rubber-stamped certified by elected judges; that entrepreneurs were being crushed by litigation expenses, sometimes at the behest of hourly lawyers who oversold them on the possibilities of being a plaintiff in circumstances troublingly close to self-dealing. (That the very first case I worked on was a sudden acceleration suit did a lot to disillusion me about Ralph Nader’s gang of lawyers: while the plaintiffs’ bar was going on at great length about cruise controls whose magic defect was more likely to strike elderly and short drivers, their noise was drowning out consumer awareness of legitimate safety improvements like shift-interlock.)
Mencimer’s analysis is a simplistic one: Republicans support reform; Mencimer doesn’t like Republicans; therefore, reform is bad, to the point that she knee-jerkingly defends a lawsuit over a flag accident brought against Dixie Flag—who didn’t even manufacture the flag or flagpole.
I’m a reformer for the same reason I became a lawyer: because I care about justice and fairness, and now recognize that the long-term damage short-sighted attorneys do to our economy through externalities is sorely underaddressed.
To the extent that education does prevent accidents, think of the good Mencimer could do if she trained her sights on what lawyers have done to the public school systems (also: Nov. 14, 2003). A shame that she’s instead carrying water for the millionaires of ATLA, and fairly thoughtlessly at that. It’s all fun and games to bash the insurance companies until the innocent lose their jobs.