The Death Panel Lie – Conservative Dishonesty in the Health Care Reform Debate

The Death Panel Lie - Conservative Dishonesty in the Health Care Reform Debate

So the opponents of health care reform are sticking with the “death panel” talking point and the mob tactics it inspires.  Admittedly, the strategy has yielded some results for…  well, it’s unclear what they want aside from railing against President Obama.  Regardless, the anti-reform crowd finally landed a punch.  Good for them, I suppose.  Conservatives have been flailing wildly since Obama took office with little to show for it, save a lot of embarrassing You Tube clips.  Despite this, there is reason to remain optimistic about getting a reform bill ready for Obama’s signature this year.

Among the ethically challenged Republicans maintaining the “Death Panel” myth are Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Iowa senator, Chuck Grassley.  All three of them are political opportunists, frankly, playing upon the fears of their dwindling, radical constituencies.  At this time and in this debate, it is a losing political strategy.

Grassley’s Folly:

Grassley’s jumping on the crazy train isn’t much of a surprise, but it was unnecessary.  Representing one of the most aged state populations in the U.S., the senator must have felt safer stoking the fear, rather than rebutting it.  However, during his recess town halls, Grassley has failed to mention he — along with many other Republicans — voted in favor of a similar measure in 2003.

From Amy Sullivan at TIME.com’s Swampland Blog, August 13, 2009:

Remember the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill, the one that passed with the votes of 204 GOP House members and 42 GOP Senators? Anyone want to guess what it provided funding for? Did you say counseling for end-of-life issues and care? Ding ding ding!!

Let’s go to the bill text, shall we? “The covered services are: evaluating the beneficiary’s need for pain and symptom management, including the individual’s need for hospice care; counseling the beneficiary with respect to end-of-life issues and care options, and advising the beneficiary regarding advanced care planning.” The only difference between the 2003 provision and the infamous Section 1233 that threatens the very future and moral sanctity of the Republic is that the first applied only to terminally ill patients. Section 1233 would expand funding so that people could voluntarily receive counseling before they become terminally ill.

Palin’s Density:

As much as I would prefer not to mention Sarah Palin, her peculiar insistence upon furthering the “Death Panel” lie demands it.  It is fitting, though, that her efforts are now publicized via Facebook rather than Governor’s Office press releases.  Her August 7, 2009 post on the subject is the one that really gave the term “Death Panel” its legs within the mainstream media:

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil…

Palin followed up this lunacy with a call for civility during the health care reform town halls scheduled by Alaska’s representatives in an August 9 Facebook post.  While it wasn’t a reversal of her previous post, it was a tacit admission that her rhetoric, at least in part, added fuel to the thuggish nonsense displayed by the right-wing at town hall discussions elsewhere.

Then she did something remarkably dense.  Sarah Palin, following the above mentioned comments from Sen. Grassley, declared victory against the dreaded death panel legislation within her August 13 post:

I join millions of Americans in expressing appreciation for the Senate Finance Committee’s decision to remove the provision in the pending health care bill that authorizes end-of-life consultations (Section 1233 of HR 3200). It’s gratifying that the voice of the people is getting through to Congress; however, that provision was not the only disturbing detail in this legislation; it was just one of the more obvious ones.

Forget for a moment that Sarah Palin had, to put it kindly, a questionable record as Governor of Alaska when it came to elder care.  Her above assertion displays a profound ignorance, not only of the present health care reform debate, but also of the basic mechanisms of the legislative process.

First, the Senate Finance Committee has nothing to do with HR 3200.  The “HR” is for House of Representatives, of course, and HR 3200 is but one of five health care bills being considered by that body.  Second, there is a Senate bill being considered by the Finance Committee, however both Houses of Congress are presently in recess.  They are not presently “removing” provisions, or adding them for that matter.

Finally, Palin’s suggestion that the “provision was not the only disturbing detail in this legislation,” is simply another fear tactic.  One she likely learned from her new mentor:  Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich’s Hypocrisy:

Gingrich is supposed to be the conservative with the most formidable intellectual chops; yet, when he attempted to defend Palin’s comments on ABC’s August 9 broadcast of This Week, he complained about the bill’s length.  “The bill is a thousand pages of setting up mechanisms,” he said. “You are asking us to trust turning power over to the government, when there are clearly people in America who believe in establishing euthanasia, including selective standards.”

Sounds scary, right?  However, consider the former House Speaker’s own words from a July 2, 2009 article at The Washington Post:

More than 20 percent of all Medicare spending occurs in the last two months of life. Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin has developed a successful end-of-life, best practice that combines: 1) community-wide advance care planning, where 90 percent of patients have advance directives; 2) hospice and palliative care; and 3) coordination of services through an electronic medical record. The Gundersen approach empowers patients and families to control and direct their care. The Dartmouth Health Atlas has documented that Gundersen delivers care at a 30 percent lower rate than the national average ($18,359 versus $25,860). If Gundersen’s approach was used to care for the approximately 4.5 million Medicare beneficiaries who die every year, Medicare could save more than $33 billion a year.

The emphasis added to the above — again, they are Gingrich’s words — describes, in general terms, what the current health care legislation-in-progress is designed to do.  It is the same idea for reform.  It is the same proposal which Sen. Grassley told his constituents they were right to fear, that Sarah Palin claimed victory for killing, and Newt Gingrich thought was such a good idea just a few short months ago.

Reasons For Optimism:

The “death panel” talking point has absolutely no basis in fact.  It is a false argument, and its success is contingent upon fear:  frightening the oldest among us into thinking their country wants to kill them.  (Wow!  I had to wash my hands after typing the preceding sentence…  Stay classy, conservatives).

The hypocrisy, fear mongering, and intellectual dishonesty described above have been employed by conservatives for years.  They are the same cynical strategies that have been employed in the fight against health care reform since the Truman administration.   They are also the same tactics that were employed against Obama during the 2008 campaign.  Obama’s election, then, is proof positive that this cynicism can be defeated.

Progressive advocates for health care, myself included, and members of the punditocracy have been highly critical of the president for pursuing this reform agenda in an bipartisan fashion.  As Thom Hartmann often says, “We have to hope that Obama is playing chess and not checkers,” with this contentious issue.  Without going into further detail, Obama doesn’t strike me as a checkers man.

In closing, it is important to note that, while optimism for health care reform is warranted, complacency is not.  Tell your representatives you want meaningful reform by signing this petition:  Support Historic Health Care Bill

The link above will take you to a petition on Care 2 site. Please take a couple minutes to take action now!

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