With the presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton dominating headlines, let’s go back in time and take a look at a time when one of the most conservative presidential candidates of the past 50 years got together with one of the most liberal presidential candidates of the past 100 years to talk about the need to address an issue still plaguing America today.
The conservative was former Congressman Jack Kemp. The liberal was former US Senator George McGovern. They agreed on very little when it came to public policy, but that was before McGovern retired from politics and bought a country inn.
After McGovern retired and decided to run a business, he quickly learned how difficult it can be to keep up with government regulations and fend off personal injury lawyers who don’t like the way one operates. By 1992, he finally had enough and surprised his friends and foes alike by writing a column for the Wall Street Journal in which he explained all the problems he experienced. His inn eventually went bankrupt, and he blamed excessive government rules and regulations – the kind he supported in Congress – as big reasons for the failure.
He also blamed one other thing: frivolous lawsuits. Even after the bankruptcy, he said “we are still dealing with litigation from individuals who fell in or near our restaurant. Despite these injuries, not every misstep is the fault of someone else. Not every incident should be viewed as a lawsuit instead of an unfortunate accident. And while the business owner may prevail in the end, the endless exposure to frivolous claims and high legal fees is frightening.”
His friends in the trial bar were not happy with that column. Nor were his former colleagues in Congress who relied heavily on political contributions from trial lawyers to finance their elections. But McGovern wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, and job providers around the country rejoiced at having this unlikely ally speaking out on their behalf.
McGovern was so passionate about the harm done by excessive litigation that he also made a TV ad with Jack Kemp to urge Americans to join him in the fight against lawsuit abuse. It’s one of my favorite political ads but was seen by relatively few Americans since it had a very limited run on the air. I obtained a copy when I became president of a Michigan-based legal reform group in the late 1990s and have posted it to YouTube here so you can see it, too.
George McGovern died shortly before before the last presidential election. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for a political leader who is willing to tackle a problem that continues to plague everyone from inn owners and other job providers to non-profit community groups to this very day: lawsuit abuse.