We have seen the “death panel,” and you are on it
posted at 2:17 pm on August 9, 2009 by CK MacLeod
At The New Republic‘s The Treatment blog – in a post under the winsome and lighthearted title “Have You No Decency?” – Professor Harold Pollack of Chicago University has responded to the widely discussed and widely criticized statement of Sarah Palin’s that we highlighted at Zombie Contentions as a “Contention of the Day” (also HotAir Quote of the Day, generating over 950 comments and still counting).
Where Pollack directly addresses Palin’s actual words, his response is more interesting for what it concedes than for what it disputes :
Governor Palin writes: “And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled.” It’s telling that she omitted one category: Poor people, whose care is now cruelly rationed in ways the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are trying to address in health care reform. Palin brings genuine moral passion to the issue of cognitive disability. I wish she would bring that same passion to the plight of uninsured patients forced to seek substandard, delayed care, or the millions of Americans facing the dual challenge of serious illness and large medical bills. If you live in any big city, go down to your local public hospital emergency room. You will probably find people in visible discomfort or illness languishing for hours. A society that cares about human rights and dignity would not tolerate this.
It would be an interesting argument – how best to relieve the plight of the poor, improve conditions at emergency rooms, deal with whatever trade-offs, etc. – but that’s not the argument the country has been having.
Instead, we’ve been arguing about a supposedly unsustainable insurance-based system and the costs imposed on businesses and workers. The “uninsured” come up a lot in Democrat talking points, but mainly as free riders whose costs are borne by the “rest of us.” How Medicaid, Medicare, and other services that help the poor might be affected (indeed, encumbered) by the Democrats’ plan is an issue that has been brought up more often by conservatives. Professor Pollack and other honest liberals are also “passionate” about this subject, but President Obama and his allies talk at least as much or more about rising costs and the impact on the insured, on businesses, and on the federal budget.
The problem is that the two ideas – help the poor, save money – contradict each other, in a way that runs parallel to the “fatal flaw” in the Obama sales pitch isolated by Ramesh Ponnuru, the contradiction between (my words) shouting in alarm, “This system is an urgent interstellar catastrophe from top to bottom!” and soothingly promising, “Don’t worry, what you’re happy with won’t change, and it won’t cost anyone but the evil rich anything!”
“How can both be true and when has it ever been?” wonder uncertain citizens the heartless racist Nazi terrorist McCarthyites of America. Similarly, between Pollack and Obama, we see that on the one hand, the poor one, the empathetic colorblind nice and virtuous reformers are aiming to expand and improve coverage rather substantially. On the other hand, the middle class and independents hand, they’re aiming to “bend the cost curve down.”
Massively (to the tune of $1 T over the first decade at least) increase demand, yet reduce overall costs? Again, we heartless etc. people scratch our heartless heads. How does that happen? Is there something you’re leaving out? Could it possibly have something to do with the hundreds of billions of dollars you say are to be diverted from Medicare – even as we commence a national discussion about the disproportionately high costs of end of life care and the desirability of keeping seniors up to date on “options other than raging, raging against the dying of the light”? Those of us with Medicare users in our families, or who figure we might become Medicare users some day if we’re lucky enough to make it that far, experience disturbing sensations in those empty places in our chest cavities (where the better people like Harold Pollack and Barack Obama have an organ that allows them to experience feelings… I guess).
Okay, I fibbed up there: No one but me is using the words “options other than raging, raging against the dying of the light.” That’s not, as far as I know, anywhere in bills currently being debated. Neither, according to Pollack, is a certain idea encapsulated (and, perhaps misleadingly, set in quotation marks) by Palin in two words – “death panel” – that have generated a bit of a “firestorm.” Poor Professor Pollack:
I can’t find the words “death panel” in any administration position paper, the stimulus package, or the House and Senate draft health reform bills. Don’t take my word for it. Read the bills.
Here I can say, “Keep looking, Professor!” It’s right there next to the mandatory “Dying of the Light” PowerPoint presentations, under the “Cost Ballooning in Out Years Til It Pops Catastrophically” provision, in between the “Destroy Innovation Forever” and “Make Mom & Dad Wait in Line behind Illegal Aliens – Haw-Haw-Haw!” subsections. It’s easy to miss if (as I know you like to do!) you skip ahead to Title 2368/b-89l and -90g, the “Lawyer and Academic Analysts Full Employment” and “Giveaways to ACORN” sub-paragraphs.
Don’t take my word for it. Read the bills.
Much of the rest of Pollack’s post consists of a defense of Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a respected oncologist who has taken on the position of health-policy adviser at the Office of Management and Budget and is a member of Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research. Seeking to justify the allusion to Joseph Welch in the post’s title, Pollack accuses Palin – by way of her reference to Emanuel’s “Orwellian thinking” as explicated by Representative Michele Bachmann, who was in turn referring to the work of Betsy McCaughey – of using McCarthyite tactics toward the poor defenseless doctor, who (just) happens to be White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s brother.
Pollack concedes that Dr. Emanuel has in the past engaged in “ incautiously blunt commentary,” but asserts that a key McCaughey op-ed “mushes together and distorts” his views. He declines to address the op-ed in any detail, but seems to imply that the New York Post should have demanded changes or never published it. “I wish the Post would exercise greater quality control over what appears in its pages,” he says. After striking this blow for democratic debate and freedom of expression, Pollack offers some doubtless entirely well-justified praise of Dr. Emanuel – “nothing Orwellian about him” we’re assured – then closes on a rather nonsensical admonition:
Emanuel’s work offers a model of sustained achievement that both Governor Palin and Representative Bachmann would be wise to emulate. He deserves better than to be trashed in this way. So do the rest of us.
I’m not sure how Palin and Bachmann are supposed to go about emulating the Emanuel “model,” and I have severe doubts as to whether, at this stage in their lives and careers, it would be wise for them to make the attempt, even assuming they can figure out what it would consist of and avoid practicing oncological medicine without a license. As for whether Emanuel deserves to be “trashed” – well, no one does, but merely having friends willing to vouch for your good character, deeds, and intentions doesn’t oblige others to accept your arguments and self-justifications, or even to presume that you’ve thought your own positions and proposals through with sufficient regard for their implications.
In a follow-up post to the “death panel” statement, Palin has provided a reading list for those interested in the bases of her views. Whether or not the proponents of Obamacare consider them “decent,” she has the same right that they do to explore, argue, and state them – and even including her belief that Dr. Emanuel’s approach, indeed the entirety of the Obamacare campaign, amounts to Orwellian doublespeak, a promise of expanded and improved care that never gets around to admitting at whose expense it would have to come, and how.
Apparently, the forthright expression of this perspective strikes the advocates of Obamacare as the fishy, heartless, ignorant, and indecent equivalent of Nazism, McCarthyism, racism, and terrorism. If so, I hope when Congress returns to business in September, it’s with new proposals on mental health care, which obviously is not what it could be in our nation today. As for the self-inflicted political injuries of over-the-top Obamaists: I say, let them suffer, and suffer, and suffer. It’s the American way.
cross-posted/adapted from Zombie Contentions