Chris Lamb, a professor of communication at the College of Charleston, is author of The Sound and Fury of Sarah Palin (FrontLine Press).
Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate in 2008, revived her outrageous claim that President Barack Obama's health-care law, the Affordable Care Act, includes a provision for "death panels."
Palin made the comment in a Facebook post on Tuesday in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the health-care law. Palin first uttered her "death panels" claim after the Obama administration made its proposal for comprehensive health care in 2009.
"Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is," Palin said in her post, "many of these accusers finally saw that Obamacare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life and death decisions about health care funding"
Palin was indeed called a "liar" three years ago because what she said was as maliciously reckless as it was maliciously false. The fact-checking Web site, PolitiFact.com, later recognized Palin's "death panels" statement as its lie of the year.
To much of the United States, Palin is a punch line in search of a joke. But she deserves to be taken seriously because, perhaps more than any one else, she represents the rhetoric of the far right, where outrage trumps fact and demagoguery trumps reason, and where, more and more, we get our news from the Comedy Channel and our comedy from Fox News.
On August 7, 2009, two weeks after resigning as governor of Alaska a little more than halfway through her four-year term, Palin said that Obama's health-care legislation would ration care to the sick and elderly and include panels to decide if such people are put the death. "And who will suffer the most when they ration care?" she said. "The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down's Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panels.' So his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society, whether they are worthy of healthcare.' "
Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Fox News television commentator Sean Hannity, and radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck were among those on the far right who supported Palin's "death panels" statement without investigating -- or probably caring -- whether the statement was true.
The Associated Press and FactCheck.org found no mention of death panels or euthanasia in any of the health-care bills in Congress. Furthermore, PolitiFact.com. said it had investigated every health-care bill in Congress and that none mentioned judging a person's "level of productivity in society to determine whether they are worthy of healthcare." It also found that Palin had, in fact, introduced the term "death panels" into the health-care debate.
Palin's statement was so extreme that it offended Congressional conservatives who opposed the health-care bill. U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia said that there were no "death panels" in the health-care bill. "It's a scare tactic. There's no question about it." U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, also of Georgia, called Palin's statement "nuts."
Conservative columnist David Brooks of the New York Times used similar language to describe the claim made by Palin and her supporters. "Yeah. Again, that's crazy," he said. "If--the crazies are attacking the plan because it'll cut off granny, and that--that's simply not true."
When Palin was later asked if she regretted the "death panels" statement, she responded with hubris that was equaled only by the clumsiness of her grammar. "I would characterize them like that again in a heartbeat," she said.
Palin's fondness for malicious and reckless statements ill serve her as a serious candidate for national office. But they didn't preclude her from an influential and high-paying position where she could express her opinions to an audience who cared as little about the truth as she did. Five months after her "death panels" statement, Fox News signed Palin to a multi-year contract to be an analyst. "It's wonderful to be a part of a place," she said, "that so values fair and balanced work."
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