Palin and Grassley, dumb and dumber

The right's intentional misrepresentation of the facts about healthcare reform seems to be working -- for now

Published August 13, 2009 5:14PM (EDT)

Editor's note: Glenn Greenwald is on vacation this week. Darren Hutchinson of Dissenting Justice is guest-blogging today.

Sarah Palin and Senator Chuck Grassley are working together to spread lies regarding the substance of pending healthcare reform legislation. Last week, Sarah Palin posted a note on Facebook, which states that:

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 healthcare. Such a system is downright evil.

Not to be outmatched by his conservative colleague, Senator Grassley stated yesterday that people "[s]hould not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma. . . ."

Palin and Grassley are liars

It is difficult to use polite prose when two individuals are intentionally making false statements. As many commentators have already observed, conservatives like Palin and Grassley are attempting to foment fears concerning a fairly innocuous and medically sound provision in the proposed healthcare reform legislation that would compensate medical providers for offering "end-of-life" counseling to individuals. During the counseling sessions, the caregivers would provide information to patients related to: advanced directives, healthcare proxies, state and national resources that assist patients and families regarding end-of-life issues, palliative care, and care in a hospice setting (see sect. 1233 of the proposed healthcare legislation).

Despite the plain language of the proposed statute, Palin and Grassley continue to float their death narratives. As Politico reports, Palin remains defiant and has released another statement (in response to criticism by President Obama) which asserts that: [I]t's misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients. . . ." Of course, Palin's new statement fails to point to any specific language in the bill that would make such counseling mandatory. Furthermore, Grassley made his "pull the plug on grandma" statement after many commentators had already debunked Palin's death panel claim. Facts mean nothing in a smear campaign.

Medical professionals endorse end-of-life counseling

One of the worst aspects of the conservative effort to stoke fear regarding the end-of-life provision is that medical professionals strongly advise that this type of counseling take place. The American Medical Association, for example, has issued an official policy statement (E.225) that addresses the inadequate nature of end-of-life counseling:

More rigorous efforts in advance care planning are required in order to tailor end-of-life care to the preferences of patients so that they can experience a satisfactory last chapter in their lives. There is need for better availability and tracking of advance directives, and more uniform adoption of form documents that can be honored in all states of the United States.

That AMA has issued several recommendations, based on its own assessment of the "discouraging evidence of inadequate end-of-life decision-making." One formal recommendation states that: "Physicians should discuss the patient's preferences with the patient and the patient's proxy. These discussions should be held ahead of time wherever possible" (italics mine). The proposed legislation basically enacts this measure by compensating caregivers who hold such counseling sessions every five years for their senior patients.

Palin and Grassley are shameless hypocrites

The worst aspect of Palin and Grassley's deception regarding death is their utterly shameless hypocrisy. They, like a growing number of conservatives, portray the proposed healthcare reform legislation as symbolizing the horrors of a "big government" invading individual liberty and privacy. They also suggest that it is particularly egregious for a government to decide who can live or die. If Palin and Grassley applied these principles consistently, they would not have an audience among social conservatives.

Palin and Grassley are both staunchly anti-abortion. Grassley earned a perfect 100 score from the National Right to Life Coalition. Apparently, he has never voted against an abortion restriction. Palin does not support abortion at all – including in cases of rape or incest – unless the mother's life is at risk. This position places among the most conservative pro-lifers.

Although Palin and Grassley express disgust over the idea of the government compensating doctors who counsel patients on end-of-life issues, they believe that it is appropriate for the government to deny doctors and patients any autonomy on the question of choice. Palin and Grassley would invite the government into the lives of women and doctors without their consent, but they would deny a role for the government to facilitate care that a doctor and patient view as medically necessary and beneficial.

Grassley's hypocrisy on this issue is even greater than Palin's. Today, Grassley condemns an imaginary scenario involving the government deciding when to pull the plug on grandma. In the recent past, however, when Grassley encountered a real-life version of this story, he made a decision that contradicts his current rhetoric.

In 2005, Grassley supported legislation that injected Congress into the Terri Schiavo saga. Schiavo's husband – and medical proxy under Florida law -- waged an almost 10-year legal battle to refuse life-sustaining medical treatment on behalf of his wife, who was in a persistent vegetative state. After a federal judge ordered the removal of food and hydration, Congress intervened and passed a law that was blatantly crafted to nullify the Florida litigation and to keep Schiavo alive against the wishes of her husband, who acted on her behalf.

Although the Senate passed the statute by unanimous consent, Grassley revealed his position and expressed his support for the measure, stating that: "I support the effort to protect Terri Schiavo. It's the first case of its kind, a chance to choose life over death. I gave the option to life. . . ." Grassley, however, did not vote for life over death. Instead, he voted to authorize direct federal involvement in an end-of-life medical decision – something he currently claims to abhor.

And to finish icing this cake, Palin and Grassley both support the death penalty. Capital punishment indisputably involves the government determining whether someone will live or die.

"Dumb" works

Apparently, "dumb" works. According to the latest Gallup poll, the conservative backlash to healthcare reform has eroded support among voters – particularly independents. If members of the corporate media (as Glenn Greenwald affectionately describes the "news" outlets) did their job and uncovered the deception and hypocrisy associated with this backlash, then this movement's rhetoric would actually face greater scrutiny and would perhaps lose some of its effectiveness. The White House also fell asleep at the wheel, as this movement continued to mobilize and to work the media. Furthermore, I suspect that many of Obama's Web-warriors are enjoying the final weeks of summer break and have not sufficiently organized on this issue.

Public opinion, however, is extremely malleable. If progressives redouble their efforts, a pretty solid reform package might actually get through Congress without damaging (and even possibly helping) the Democrats. Stay tuned.


By Darren Hutchinson

Professor Darren Hutchinson teaches Constitutional Law, Critical Race Theory, Law and Social Change, and Equal Protection Theory at the American University, Washington College of Law.

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