Make sure you read Michael Scherer's excellent take on the smearing of Zeke Emanuel (including an interview with Zeke from the Italian Alps). I think Scherer gets at something pretty deep in this passage:
The attacks on Emanuel are a reminder that there is a narrow slice of Americans who not only don't trust government, but also have come to regard it as a dark conspirator in their lives. This peculiar brand of distrust helps create the conditions for fast-moving fear-mongering, especially on complex and emotionally charged topics like the life and death of the elderly and infirm. Prairie fires of that kind are hard to douse when the Administration's own plan for health care remains vague, weeks away from being ready for a public rollout. The health-care bill that recently passed the House does not contain, as some have suggested, any provisions that would deny treatment to the elderly, infirm or disabled like Sola's son. One provision allows doctors to be reimbursed for voluntary discussions of so-called living wills with patients, but does not in any way threaten to deny treatment to dying patients against their will. The legislation anticipates saving hundreds of billions of dollars by reforming the health-care system itself, a process that would try to increase the efficiency of medical care by better connecting payments to health outcomes and discouraging doctors from unnecessary tests and procedures. The Obama Administration hopes that many of these reforms will be made in the coming years by independent panels of scientists, who will be appointed by the President and overseen by Congress.
This is where the criticism of Emanuel enters the picture, since he is just the sort of scientist who might be appointed to one of those panels.
Between the attacks on Zeke and the ritual incantations of phrases like "death panel," it's clear the administration has inadvertently stirred up the anxieties of a certain paranoid strain of conservative, with its persistent fear of being mocked and victimized by elites of various kinds. Which makes it hardly surprising that Sarah Palin is leading the charge.
One thing that makes this worldview especially challenging to deal with: Any attempt to explain how such wildly inaccurate information may be wrong is invariably interpreted by the paranoid conservative as elite condescension, which often drives her to hold the view even more tightly. Liberals and rationalists, including the ones who populate the Obama administration, tend to believe information is the great neutralizer. But that's not necessarily true in these cases, unfortunately. (Again, see Sarah Palin.)
The good news is that I don't think paranoid conservatives represent a very big fraction of the American public. The bad news is that they appear to be driving the health care debate at the moment.