August 11, 2009

Living Will Death Panels

Republicans have good ideas!

This won't come as a surprise to reasonable people, or supporters of the Republican party. But the form of some of the criticism of good Republican ideas may very well surprise you.

Medicare, a popular1, government-run health care program for senior citizens, does not cover living wills. A living will is a way for a person to assert how they want their care to be handled, should they be incapacitated and unable to express their opinion. This is nearly universally considered a good idea, and it has been official US government policy for the last 20 years or so to encourage people to create living wills.

Seniors who are already burdened by medical costs may not understand the options, may not want to deal with expenditures necessary, or may not have access to advice for creating living wills. So, Republicans (Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Representative Susan Collins of Maine) decided that health care reform should include support and funding for seniors to have voluntary access to consultation toward creating a living will. They'd be eligible for such assistance every 5 years (I suppose so you don't have people deciding they want a weekly visit from the consultant, and charging that to the government). Democrats agreed. So this became a big bi-partisan winning idea.

In the current uninformed climate where PR firms are highly paid by some of the largest and most profitable corporations in the country in order to make sure as little reform happens as possible (so as not to upset the gravy train) this passage int he bill gets twisted thusly:

Obama is going to send people to visit seniors every 5 years and force them to decide how they are going to die!

Nobody would believe that, though, right? Think again. It's all over right wing radio, email lists, and forums that this provision amounts to an effort to "kill granny." Or "throw momma from the train."

Well, but no actual prominent Republicans would believe this, right? Think again. Sarah Palin has recently been in the news for further distorting the bill by declaring:

"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,"

And so it becomes Obama's death panel.

But no actual prominent Republican with half a brain would believe this, right? Wrong. Newt Gingrich, long a source of policy for Republicans and considered to have a working cerebral cortex, refused to correct the record when George Stephanopoulos asked him what he thought about Palin's "death panel" quote. Gingrich dodged, changed the subject, brought up unrelated writings that are not in the bill. As George said "But it's not in the bill."

This isn't just some crazy fringe. This is a refusal by so-called conservatives to have a national debate on the merits. Regardless of what bloggers and other folks argue about, at the top level you should expect substantial debate. You're not getting that.

This is not a good faith discussion. This is political cover for frightening people to show up at town halls to add frightened citizens to the shills who organize rowdy opposition.

It's not that I think there aren't good faith objections and concerns. I think that it's fairly obvious that those concerns are back-burner to the real problem here. I have advice to Republicans:

Your ideas failed to win you the election. Distortions and yelling do not improve bad ideas. Get over it, get some better ideas and participate like adults.

If you are a Republican and you object to what I describe here, then we have a fundamental disagreement about the nature of a productive discussion. If you feel your ideas can stand on their merits, you need to be the ones to criticize absurd distortions like "death panels" by calling into your radio shows and correcting anyone who allows this ridiculousness to persist.

If, on the other hand, you think it's politically beneficial, then you're not a friend of the truth. And since the loudest voices are screaming that Obama and his supporters are socialists, they are hardly going to listen to the likes of me.

If you're upset that I'm talking above about Palin and Gingrich, neither of whom are elected officials, I do so because of their prominence in the conservative movement. Gingrich for his history, Palin for having been prematurely chosen to run for high office. Want elected officials? Here's John Boehner's opposition to giving seniors assistance in handling their care according to their wishes.

1. People who have actually experienced Medicare (i.e. government-subsidized healthcare) report greater satisfaction with it than do people on private insurance)

Posted by James at August 11, 2009 12:31 PM
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"This is not a good faith discussion. This is political cover for frightening people to show up at town halls to add frightened citizens to the shills who organize rowdy opposition."
I'm still waiting for the surprise part.
Of course wingnuts do this. They lost their power base in the Administration, and so it's now The End Times.

Posted by: givesgoodemail at August 12, 2009 4:00 PM

I've been having tremendous difficulty keeping up with the news lately (didn't find out about Sotomayor's approval or Eunice Kennedy's death until everyone else had already moved on), but I saw some footage from various town hall meetings this morning (TV comes on automatically to wake me up). Let me tell you, it was a sight for [literally] sore eyes. These people were not only misinformed - they were talking (screaming) as if they had just come from another planet. Which, in some sense, they probably did after being so deeply embedded in that crazy conservative media world.

Posted by: Julie at August 12, 2009 10:07 PM

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