As a liberal myself, I was amazed by the obtuseness of the liberal reaction to Sarah Palin’s “death panels” quote. They fell into a trap because all too many were blinded by their class-conscious, snobbish disdain for Palin, who, whatever else you think of her, is one cagey operator.
And in doing so they allowed that one brilliantly crafted propaganda phrase to undo the chance for some necessary health care reforms (portability of coverage, no disqualification for previous conditions, eligibility to some plan for all, subsidized coverage for the impoverished uninsured).
They couldn’t believe that Sarah Palin was capable of something as canny as that deadly “death panels” phrase. They couldn’t see that it was a metaphoric shorthand for something real. Instead they thought she was too dumb, that she meant it literally (to have seen the potential for rationed end-of-life care in the bill), and instead indulged in an orgy of disdain for her “crazy,” “ignorant” “lies” and malicious misrepresentation.
No! “Death panels” was a Lenny Bruce black-humored kind of line and she proved herself far hipper than the terminally square liberals who didn’t get it. And who started an ill-conceived war on the phrase which most of the country, when the facts came out, saw as meretricious or ignorant on the liberals’ part — with good reason. And caused ordinary citizens to turn against the whole cause of health care — really it should be health insurance — reform.
Liberals should have responded the way my friend Joe Conason (and a few other non-snotty liberals) did, by pointing out that we already have death panels of a sort: the ones manned by the insurance companies who ration and deny coverage for the sake of their profit margins. Would government rationing be better? It might be less greed-motivated, but maybe not. There at least should have been a discussion of the real issue of health care rationing.
Because yes, there is a “panel” in the bill that will “evaluate” the cost effectiveness of various expensive, minimally life-extending treatment decisions — decisions that any health-care program, public or private, may have to make. No, individuals won’t have to stand before it, but individuals will be affected — and sometimes suffer — from its decisions.
But liberals and, shamefully, liberal oriented media — most of them — made the mistake they keep making about Sarah Palin: because she didn’t go to Princeton she’s incapable of seeing or cutting to the heart of the matter so shrewdly. They had a chance to respond as Conason did: put her on the spot by asking her exactly what she’d do about existing insurance company “death panels.” Instead, they didn’t believe she was sophisticated enough (like them) to make the point she was making.
And then the facts began to leak out, as even the media began to read the bill and its implications and backtrack on its deeply flawed literal-to-the point of stupidity “fact checks”– and people got legitimately outraged at being treated like Sarah Palin: too dumb to understand. When in fact they — the liberals and the media — were the ones whose knee jerk reactions were ignorant.
Of course the overreaction by genuinely ignorant right-wingers (“I don’t want the government to mess with my Medicare”) and the thuggish, lynch mob behavior at town halls (boasting of shouting others’ down and other mob tactics, Hitler mustaches etc., rather than making rational arguments and respecting other citizens) including the terrorist tactic of bringing guns to town hall meetings, showed that the right could squander an advantage in legitimate debate by making an ugly spectacle of itself.
Nonetheless, when the history of the whole misbegotten health care reform effort is written, Sarah Palin has to be given credit for stopping it on a dime — and the snotty liberals who underestimated her should be held responsible.