As with McCarthyism, Palinism is a product of its times. McCarthy exploited the public’s fear of communism and communists. Not only were they abroad, but they were here in America — spies, fellow travelers, pinkos, apologists, intellectuals and short, bespectacled minorities. It was their very ubiquity and invisibility that made them so dangerous.

Health-care reform provides Palin the same opportunity. The klutziness of Obama’s effort — people think they know what they can lose but have no idea of what they can gain — again raises the specter of invisible forces that will take but not give, dictate but not listen, tax but not provide. But as is almost always the case with right-wing populists, the shooter has aimed at her own foot. Palin’s “death panel” remarks either killed or helped kill the proposal to offer end-of-life counseling. The victims will be the poor, the uninformed and the ideologically blind who will find themselves unable to make a graceful exit. The affluent have their living wills and such. The poor have only their grief.