I've been writing about "town hells" and anti-health care reform hysterics, as well as the crazy Birthers, for a few weeks. Every few days, I think: Maybe we're giving these fringe folks the oxygen they need; maybe we should ignore them. But it all got even loonier today, and it can't be ignored.
Alex Koppelman wrote about it immediately: Sarah Palin (or her handlers) posted a message on Facebook decrying the "death panels" she says – wrongly, bizarrely, viciously -- Obama's health care reform will establish. She also claimed such panels might well have ended the life of her son Trig, born with Down's Syndrome.
Where to start? It would be funny if it weren't so sad, and if Palin wasn't a contender for the Republican nomination in 2012 (trust me, she is too unhinged to prevail, but she'll get a lot of attention.) Palin's entire statement is so ignorant, so bollixed rhetorically and morally, it hurts to read it. The next time any Republican apologist tries to claim the "town hell" turnouts are spontaneous, let's remind them: OK, sure, it's spontaneous alright; spontaneous combustion super-ignited by the most stupid and divisive lies we've seen in a long time.
But looking at history, maybe it's not that long a time since we've seen this level of fact-free right-wing hysteria. The 2008 Democratic primary was painful to me because even as some liberals were trashing the Clintons and their "baggage," it should have been clear to anyone with a memory that Obama would face the same insanity they did – accusations they murdered Vince Foster, trafficked in drugs, and then, of course, the sexual witch hunt known as impeachment. It was clear Democrats should take the character assassination the Clintons suffered, and multiply it by at least 10 for Obama, given his race. It was all fairly predictable; and it can all be fought -- and will be fought -- but even now, a lot of Democrats appear dull and flat-footed and unprepared for the GOP hate spewing from so many sewers.
I'm especially disappointed in the media. Sure, I sit and watch the stalwarts of the MSNBC lineup rant about it all, but I see too little sober, straightforward mainstream media reporting about how completely inaccurate, ideological and dangerous the GOP assault on health care reform is. The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein's excellent and fair assessment of Republican lies about Obama's plan was a crucial exception. (It was headlined "Republicans Propagating Falsehoods in Attacks on Health-Care Reform," which makes me wonder who among Pearlstein's editors decided a 22-character euphemism for "lying" was the way to go. But I quibble, and I shouldn't.)
Here's some of what Pearlstein said:
"The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems…
The Republican lies about the economics of health reform are also heavily laced with hypocrisy.
While holding themselves out as paragons of fiscal rectitude, Republicans grandstand against just about every idea to reduce the amount of health care people consume or the prices paid to health-care providers -- the only two ways I can think of to credibly bring health spending under control. When Democrats, for example, propose to fund research to give doctors, patients and health plans better information on what works and what doesn't, Republicans sense a sinister plot to have the government decide what treatments you will get. By the same wacko-logic, a proposal that Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care is transformed into a secret plan for mass euthanasia of the elderly."
I was tempted to just reprint the whole column, but I want people to go the the Post Web site (in the hopes that my referrals will reward this kind of journalism.) Pearlstein's piece should be the death of "he said, she said" journalism, because he makes clear the many lies at the heart of the Republican revolt against Obama's proposals. But of course, it won't be. I was thrilled that the top story at the New York Times Web site Friday night was headlined "Health Debate Turns Hostile at Town Hall Meetings," a story Salon and other online news organizations were of course headlining days ago. But was hugely disappointing that the so-called "nut graph" (the summary every journalist is taught to write) is this: "Democrats have said the protesters are being organized by conservative lobbying groups like FreedomWorks. Republicans respond that the protests are an organic response to the Obama administration’s health care restructuring proposals."
Shoulder shrug! Who knows! We can't say! No wonder the Times and other papers that peddle such lazy "He said, she said" journalism are on the decline. I think the Times headline should have been: "Sarah Palin falsely accuses Obama of establishing 'death panels.'" That was the news. "Democrats say/Republicans counter" coverage, on this issue, is pandering to mobs that are trying to squelch democracy.
Let me go beyond Steven Pearlstein and say: Most of the health care screamers are sadly uninformed. and some are hugely driven by lies and racism. Maybe more disturbing, the fact that the last GOP nominee for vice president falsely claims that Obama is going to create "death panels" shows the Republican Party has has arrived at a point of abject shame. John McCain's multi-faceted service to his country was obliterated by his choice of Palin last August, which almost catapulted her to vice president but certainly propelled her into national GOP leadership. McCain's decline is sad, but it needs to be called out constantly.
The decline of newspapers and big TV networks is sad, too, but they need to look for a way to reinvent themselves, to stop circling the drain economically and ethically. Wouldn't it be great if more of them would take a wild risk, and tell the truth consistently? But I don't see many trying – and if they can't do it now, when the truth is clear and the lies are flying – I can't see how they ever will.