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What is happening to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia? Talk to him about his demands that wrongfully injured victims of medical malpractice and product defects be further restricted from having their full day in court and the normally shy, self-deprecating politician behaves like his great grandfather, the arrogant oil billionaire who crushed his business opponents in the post-Civil War years.

Rockefeller IV is working overtime in Congress to federalize and hamstring the laws of the fifty states that protect people who are harmed by wrongdoers and give these victims the right to plead their case before judge and jury. Reflecting as closed a mind on these important rights as I have ever seen on Capitol Hill, the Rockefeller heir is damaging eight decades of steadfast attempts by the Rockefeller family to change the historical image of the first Rockefeller’s power-hungry ‘hell with the people’ career.

West Virginians, who are upset with Rockefeller, send him evidence, facts and pleas about the deaths, injuries and sickness that are caused by bad doctors and hospitals and by dangerously built products and toxics.

They show him the results of Harvard School of Public Health’s research on malpractice: 80,000 die in hospitals each year from malpractice, many more are seriously injured. Medical malpractice costs the country $60 billion a year. Defensive medicine can be careful medicine or prompted by the desire for more revenue rather than fear of malpractice lawsuits. These are findings by distinguished physicians who know what is going on.

Harvard surgeon, Dr. Lucian Leape, told an audience of scientists: “Medical injury is indeed a hidden epidemic. . . It’s time for the medical profession to become as concerned about safety as about cure.”

It is one thing for Rockefeller to distrust West Virginian judges and jurors and want to federally regulate them; it is another thing for Rockefeller to ignore data that show only one in ten malpractice victims even filing a legal claim. But it is sheer callousness not to propose measures in the national health care legislation that would reduce this epidemic of death, injury and costliness.

His gaze is on the horrible victims whom he believes to be too uppity and getting too much for their wounds. Again he advances no evidence for his belief that state judges and juries are going haywire with insurance company money. Certainly the malpractice insurance companies are registering record profits.

The same insensitive Rockefeller emerges regarding one of his favorite bills to also federalize state courts when they are deciding how much to compensate innocent victims of defective vehicles, silicon gel implants, flammable fabrics, dangerous drugs and other hazardous products. Several years ago he supported a more vicious bill, but, for tactical purposes, he is pressing for a lesser version, hoping the rest of his wishes to shield reckless corporations from responsibility will pass later.

Even friends of Rockefeller are sensing his change toward reaction, his return to the patrician mindset of his 19th century forebear. The Associated Press quoted him recently saying “We’re going to push through health-care reform regardless of the views of the American people.”

He also said at the same time that the public “doesn’t need to know” about the details involving millions in taxpayer subsidies to a plant that is bargaining with the state of West Virginia before it sets up shop there.

When Rockefeller IV started his journey to the top of West Virginian politics in 1966, people remarked about his unusual humbleness. I recall a friend from Morgantown telling me: “wait until he feels secure in his political power and watch what comes out.” I scoffed at him. But not anymore.