Ed Kilgore is managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and a frequent contributor to a variety of political journals.
One of the abiding frustrations attending the campaign for health care reform is that the complexity of the subject enables opponents to, as Sarah Palin might put it, "make things up." Pro-reform folk have to work overtime to swat down claims that range from the deeply exaggerated to the completely fabricated, only to see their arguments treated as equivalent to conservative howlers in "he said, she said" media coverage. (Harold Pollack tears apart a few particularly egregious provocateurs over at The Treatment today.)
My own personal favorite howler, based on an usually high ratio of drama to fact, is the "kill granny" meme, whereby health reform is alleged to be aimed at saving money by hurrying seniors to the graveyard. And as it happens, Pat Buchanan's latest syndicated column offers a classicly twisted presentation of this claim, showing that the old demagogue has not lost a step in his ability to defy logic in pursuit of his political aims.
After announcing that "Obamacare" depends on reduction of end-of-life care costs, Buchanan suddenly takes us to the United Kingdom, where a government agency has issued guidelines opposing the routine prescription of steroids for chronic pain. Then we're back in the USA:
Now, twin this story with the weekend Washington Post story about Obamacare's "proposal to pay physicians who counsel elderly or terminally ill patients about what medical treatment they would prefer near the end of life and how to prepare instructions such as living wills," and there is little doubt as to what is coming.
Having conflated British and American policies, and identified counseling designed to let seniors control their own care with a government restriction on a particular pain medication, Buchanan suddenly starts talking about an assisted suicide in Switzerland, notes that some people in America support that, too, and then gets to his real argument:
Beneath this controversy lie conflicting concepts about life.
To traditional Christians, God is the author of life and innocent life, be it of the unborn or terminally ill, may not be taken. Heroic means to keep the dying alive are not necessary, but to advance a natural death by assisting a suicide or euthanasia is a violation of the God's commandment, Thou shalt not kill.
To secularists and atheists who believe life begins and ends here, however, the woman alone decides whether her unborn child lives, and the terminally ill and elderly, and those closest to them, have the final say as to when their lives shall end.
Note that the only "concepts about life" that Buchanan mentions are those of "traditional Christians" and "secularists and atheists." Thus excluded from the debate are 40 million or so mainline American Protestants, 20 to 30 million "non-traditional" American Catholics (i.e., those who support abortion rights), and of course, Jews, Muslims and all sorts of other people who aren't remotely "secularists and atheists." Unbelievers are in turn stereotyped without evidence as holding a casual attitude towards human life, instead of, perhaps, a serious commitment to the rights of human beings who happen to be women or people near death.
But this doesn't end Buchanan's vast smear. Next he flies us back in space and time to early-twentieth-century Germany, where a treatise on assisted suicide by two professors in the Weimar era (you know, that decadent "liberal" period) is assumed to have led directly to Nazi Germany's euthanasia policies. (Pat doesn't mention that the Nazis were big opponents of abortion, at least for Aryans.)
So in one short column, Buchanan manages to associate "Obamacare" with the intentional infliction of pain on seniors to encourage them to commit suicide, as part of an anti-Christian and proto-Nazi drive to destroy "the sanctity of life."
I'm not saying that opponents of health care reform generally embrace Buchanan's ravings, but let's face it: The man has enormous exposure via his column and his MSNBC appearances. And he merely adds a particularly shrill voice to the chorus urging Americans that this complicated idea of health care reform is too risky to undertake. Why open the door to even a small chance of a Fourth Reich in America, via government-sponsored assisted suicide? It's better to trust the devil we know.