Steele: Well, people believe there are death panels

For Michael Steele, it's OK to be scared of things that aren't real

Published August 13, 2009 4:14PM (EDT)

When one side of a debate prefers its fantasy versions of its opponents and their ideas to the prosaic, wonky reality, it can bend public discourse in some weird ways. For one thing, it’s apparently become de rigueur for critics of President Obama to deal in hearsay. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sagely notes, “There is some fear” about “death panels,” adding, “You have every right to fear.” Orly Taitz just wants you to know that some other people happen to think that Obama is a crook and a criminal of every imaginable stripe.

Now Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, is trying to pull much the same stunt. Fox News host Neil Cavuto asked Steele whether he thought it was right and proper for Republicans to make “death panel” allegations. Replied Steele,

Well, I think it’s, I think it’s proper because it's within the context of what people are seeing in some of the legislation that’s floating around out there. When you’re talking about panels that are going to be imposed, that will be making life and death decisions, that will be making decisions about whether or not you get health care or don’t receive health care. I think that’s perfectly appropriate.

(Hat tip to Think Progress.)

It was clear from the day he took the job at the RNC that Michael Steele was going to have to find just the right ideological niche to squeeze into. The party needed to move toward the center, and the right wing almost immediately started calling for his head after he made some vague gestures in that direction. Steele's behavior here is much like that of the many, many Republicans who refuse to admit what they probably know to be true about Obama’s natural-born citizenship, because they’d get crucified by their party’s activists. This time, the chairman is trying to use tongs and rubber gloves to delicately toss raw steak to the beast in the cage.

The RNC didn’t respond to Salon's request for comment.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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Healthcare Reform Michael Steele Republican Party War Room