Sarah Palin is at it again. She's insisting that the health care bill under construction in Congress will cause the creation of "death panels." She was invited to testify before the New York Senate's Aging Committee on health care reform and instead sent the committee a letter
that she also posted on her Facebook page. In that letter, she says:
A great deal of attention was given to my use of the phrase "death panel" in discussing such rationing. Despite repeated attempts by many in the media to dismiss this phrase as a "myth," its accuracy has been vindicated.
But expert after expert has declared that there are no "death panels" in the health care legislation being considered by Congress. What experts? you ask. According to the Associated Press, leaders of the National Council on Aging, AARP, the American Medical Association, and the National Right to Life Committee have each said "death panels" would not be set up by this legislation. The provision that caused the fuss in the first place simply would allow Medicare to pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. Note the word voluntary. Still, in her letter to the Aging Committee, Palin contends that "death panels" are real, as she mangles various end-of-life policy matters. (Palin also defends her use of "death panels" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday.)
Palin's campaign against non-existent "death panels" is part of the ongoing anti-Obama mania on the right. It was in full force in the days leading up to President Obama's common-sense speech to school kids (work hard, don't be discouraged by failure). At Politics Daily, Emily Miller referred to Obama's "dictatorial style of forcing children to support him."
Dictatorial? Was it "dictatorial" when President Ronald Reagan addressed school kids
and promoted his administration's tax policies? Or when President George H.W. Bush spoke to students
? Miller's characterization was absurd -- and an insult to citizens who do live and suffer within true dictatorships. Obama has brought more transparency to government operations and White House actions than previous presidents, especially George W. Bush (though I'd like Obama to go further). He has Republicans in his Cabinet. He even appears to be alienating his fellow liberal Democrats in Congress to reach a bipartisan deal on health care legislation. A dictatorial style? What planet is Miller punditing on?
On "Hardball" Tuesday night, I was discussing the right-wing attack machine with Patrick Buchanan, and the conversation turned to Palin's latest remarks about those "death panels." Buchanan maintained that what Palin said in her letter was "exactly right." He claimed that under the provision at issue "an authorized individual paid for by Medicare" would visit a senior with cancer and essentially encourage him or her to die. I pointed out that the program was merely voluntary -- there's that word, again -- end-of-life counseling, and Buchanan eventually conceded there were no death-panel "entity" in the pending legislation. Still, he praised Palin for crusading against "death panels," which "admittedly" are "not in the bill." I countered that he was admiring Palin for "making something up that just happened to hit a chord with people who are worried," noting "that's called demagoguery." (You can see all this below.)
Palin, Miller and others are deploying hyperbolic and irresponsible rhetoric to score points and to exploit the built-in opposition to Obama. Last year, I attended John McCain and Palin rallies where I met many people who decried Obama as a communist, a supporter of terrorists, a hate-America-firster, a non-citizen -- basically, illegitimate. They could not accept the idea of him becoming president. They truly seemed to fear that an Obama victory would mean the end of America as they understood it. Was there a racial component to this? Perhaps. More important, there was a political culture component. These people could not reconcile themselves to the America that Obama represented: nontraditional families, liberal values, cultural tolerance. It's these people who are being whipped up by Palin and the like. They are a minority, but they generate a lot of noise -- and that's good for cable television.
So Palin can continue with her campaign against nonexistent "death panels" -- because there is an audience for this bunk, people who crave to believe the worst about Obama (be it true or not). No doubt, conservatives will soon pounce again on whatever they can to depict Obama as a latter-day Mao. Will this strategy work for conservatives? It depends on whether reality matters. But for many, it certainly feels just right. And by resurrecting the "death panels," Palin remains in competition for the prized title of Obama hater-in-chief.
You can follow David Corn's postings and media appearances via Twitter.And see Corn's take on President Obama's big health care speech here.