Tuesday, August 11, 2009

“The People to Whom You Are Listening with Half an Ear Are Telling You Half the Truth”

MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann used his “special commentary” segment last night to slam quitter ex-governor Sarah Palin of Alaska over her fact-free assertion that President Obama’s health-care reform legislation will create “death panels” of bureaucrats to judge whether sick senior citizens are of sufficient value to society to be given life-sustaining medical care. “There is no ‘death panel,’” he stated. “There is no judgment based on societal productivity. There is no worthiness test. But there is downright evil, and Ms. Palin, you just served its cause.” Olbermann did still more to sink Palin’s rising star, calling her “a clear and present danger to the safety and security of this nation.”

I’m not sure I would go that far. But Palin has certainly proved herself to be a fool, and willing to fool all Americans all the time, if that’s what it takes for her to stay in the political limelight. The Associated Press has already issued a “fact-check” story pointing out the inaccuracies of statements made by Palin and others regarding the health-care overhaul. “Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision [of death panels],” the AP explains. “The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes.” That story addresses this matter further as part of its Q&A section:
Q: Does the health care legislation bill promote “mercy killing,” or euthanasia?

A: No.

Q: Then what’s all the fuss about?

A: A provision in the House bill written by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill, and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.

The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.
Given the AP’s recent history of fawning over Obama’s GOP rival, if it too is willing to denounce Republican’t talking points, then the limits of truth-telling must really be tested on this matter.

Facing South, the online magazine for the Institute for Southern Studies, notes that Blumenauer isn’t the only Capitol Hill habitué pushing for advance care planning. “[A]s it turns out,” the magazine writes, “the cause of advance planning has been championed especially strongly by a pro-life Republican--U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia.” Isakson has already come out in The Washington Post to refute Palin’s “death panel” comments.

Meanwhile, both Slate and Salon point out that private insurance companies already withhold treatment based on a person’s age or state of health. Is Palin going to call out Blue Cross or any other giant, wealthy U.S. insurance company for the very abuses she insists--erroneously--that Obama and his fellow Democrats are building into their health-care reform programs? Of course not. That might hurt her future campaign fund-raising prospects.

And it seems that Thomas F. Schaller, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maryland, and a contributor to Salon’s informative War Room column, has kicked up a brouhaha with his column in today’s Baltimore Sun, where he charges that the level of political discourse surrounding America’s present health-care reform “debate” has sunk to kookiness among right-wingers. He writes, in part:
Their [birther] dreams of deporting Mr. Obama dashed, kooky conservatives have turned to Plan B: Shouting that the president’s health care proposal amounts to socialism. No, wait, make that fascism: At health care town halls and other public events, we’ve seen posters of Mr. Obama with a Hitler mustache and of a child in a stroller holding a sign warning of impending fascism.

Socialism, fascism--whatever, same diff. It speaks to the incoherence of these protesters that they can’t distinguish the two. Yet, so long as the comparison makes the president sound evil, dastardly and un-American, such complications hardly seem to trouble them.
Following up in Salon this morning, Schaller says, “OK, there’s nothing wrong with voicing opposition. This is America. I have no objections to protests, even loud protests. People should attend town halls and public forums and other debates. They should let their members of Congress and the President know what they think. But what’s annoying--and I won’t bore you with some of the e-mails I’m getting--is the disconnect between this sudden surge in First Amendment expression when, just a few years ago, many of these same folks were deafeningly silent.” He continues:
Where were these same people in the run-up to the Iraq war? Did they call for more concrete evidence, further study? Where were their voiced worries about government overreach or thwarting public will? Remember, a majority did not want to go to war, so why weren’t they raising noisy concerns about an elitist government that was ignoring the will of the people and imposing its own will on them instead?

And how about the coverage of the war debate back in 2002 and 2003? Did these same folks who say the liberal media fix is in for health care question the planting of stories in major papers, sourced from shady characters like Ahmed Chalabi, by the vice president and his cohorts? Did they challenge as bogus the later citation of these planted stories as proof that the case for weapons of mass destruction? Why weren’t they protesting outside the supposedly liberal, dastardly Washington Post’s editorial offices as that paper issued editorial after editorial calling for war? Shouldn’t the Post’s and the New York Times’ pro-war reporting--both papers later had to conduct internal investigations of their journalistic failings--have been warning signal enough to these same liberal-media-conspiracy-believers that something was rotten in the White House? ...

We hear about the fear of government bureaucrats who are out of touch and can’t be relied upon to make good health care decisions for the public. Fine, but where was this argument as we watched Anderson Cooper reporting live from New Orleans before the federal government managed to arrive post-Katrina? Why is there never any anti-bureaucrat fervor directed at defense department acquisition and deployment personnel, given that our troops were sometimes bathing in unsafe water and couldn't get sufficient armor for their vehicles in Iraq? (Oh, right, it was just a matter of “physics” back then, according to our glorious Secretary of Defense.)

I could go on, but you get the point. What amounted to heresy, even treason, a few short years ago in our public discourse has now morphed into patriotic, true-blue American First Amendment expression.
Hypocrisy reigns supreme among America’s right-wing extremists. Which goes back to a point that’s been made by Schaller and some of our more thoughtful TV and newspaper commentators: that opposition to the present health-care reform plans has only tangentially to do with the legislation making its way through Congress; it’s really fueled by lingering opposition to Barack Obama’s election as president last year. Some of it is just conservative discomfort with the U.S. government having fallen into the hands of a smart Democrat, someone who opposed much of what George W. Bush stood for during the last eight disastrous years. Some of this fervor is likely fueled, too, by racism, which remains a pernicious force in the South, the only place in the nation where the Republican’t Party is still strong. Obama is America’s first black president, which makes racists more than a bit uncomfortable. Conservative activists are exploiting the bigotry still infecting this land to drum up opposition to Obama’s agenda. It’s an ugly, hateful tactic, and one that could have the result of turning what Palin called “the America I know and love” back into a place divided not just by political disagreements, but by racial animosities and consequent violence.

Aren’t Americans a better people than all of this suggests?

FOLLOW-UP I: The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen notes today: “It appears that conservative organizers and Tea Party activists aren’t really interested in some kind of bipartisan reform of the health care system, or watered down Democratic proposals. Their goal is to protect the status quo at all costs.”

FOLLOW-UP II: President Obama’s New Hampshire town-hall meeting earlier today on the subject of health-care was particularly powerful. Watch here.

FOLLOW-UP III: Sometimes I think I must live in quite a different world from the minority of Obama-haters out there. Steve Benen lists some of the wacky statements made during a health-care reform town-hall meeting Senator Arlen Specter held today in Lebanon, Pennsylvania:
Specter’s largely right-wing crowd insisted President Obama isn’t an American. One nutty man said to applause, “One day, God is going to stand before you and he’s going to judge you!” Another yelled, “This is the Soviet Union, this is Maoist China.”

One attendee drew a standing ovation when she said health care reform is about “
dismantling” the United States and “turning” the country “into Russia.” She later added that she feared toilet paper rationing.

Someone in the audience wanted to explain that the Qu’ran says that “
all unbelievers will be executed.” The same person added that if we close Gitmo, “criminals” will “escape” and we'll find “a bunch of innocent people are murdered. And that’s what’s gonna happen.”
What sort of hallucinogens are these folks taking?

READ MORE:Exposing the Euthanasia Scare,” by Harold Pollack (The New Republic); “Making the Same Mistake Twice,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “It Is Democracy, Not Health-Care Reform, That Is Sick,” by Ezra Klein (The Washington Post); “Health Care Protestors Largely from Out of District, Sign-in Sheets Show,” by Ryan Grim (The Huffington Post); “Over the Top and Beneath Contempt,” by Roger Simon (Politico).

1 comment:

Stan Ulrich said...

A fine commentary, Jeff. I am astounded and disturbed by the idiocy of the current "debate", having been through the wars dating back to the early 1980s where I was principal draftsman of California's durable power of attorney for health care (and later advance health care directive) legislation. I thought being attacked by the Larouchites and other wingnuts then was crazy (and a bit fun, in retrospect), but it was nothing like what I'm seeing now.