Hey, it could happen!

Say you're Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, and you're looking for a column that will help people understand the health care debate. You could chose one that makes clear that health care reform does not involve, as Sarah Palin mendaciously claims, “death panels” that convene to kill children and the elderly. But that would be boring! So you run this, instead:

The issue here is not that these citizens consider Obama untrustworthy -- though they do. The issue, rather, is that they recognize that the stated goals and structure of a policy may not fully capture its full range of outcomes in practice. This is why these citizens, including professionally briefed participants such as Sarah Palin, can continue to maintain, in the face of a barrage of insistences to the contrary, that the reforms will (1) result in rationing and (2) establish “death panels.”

Check out that framing: people who believe health care reform will “establish 'death panels'” are “professionally briefed,” while those who point out that no such thing will happen and no such thing is contained in any proposed legislation are merely offering a “barrage of insistences.” Way to stack the deck in favor of the crazy and false position.

More from Danielle Allen's op-ed:

These activists do not claim that the proposed reforms include policies whose explicit purpose is to ration, nor do the more careful among them claim that the policies will establish panels to help people decide when to die. They are not arguing about the semantic content of the policies; that is, they are not arguing about the meaning of the words that are actually in the relevant drafts of bills. Instead, they are considering, as the pragmatist philosopher William James put it, “what conceivable effects of a practical kind the [policy] may involve -- what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare.”


In asking lawmakers to consider not merely the goals of their policies but also the experiential meaning of concrete realities that those policies may bring, they have a point. One can't answer them by saying: “These policies won't ration; there will be no death panels.” If these reforms do either of these things, they will do so as a matter of unintended consequences.

Nonsense. Utter, complete, contemptible nonsense. Plausible unintended consequences should surely be considered. But implausible, never-going-to-happen, absurd unintended consequences need not be. Sure, the government could theoretically eventually create “death panels” that order three-year-olds and grandparents put to death. And a race of super-human alien-dinosaur hybrids from the planet Zolog could theoretically become angered by the adoption of a public plan and blow up Earth in a fit of rage.

Hmmm. If I can stretch that last sentence into an 800 word defense of irresponsible fear-mongering, Fred Hiatt will probably put it in Thursday's Washington Post ...

UPDATE: Speaking of enabling the spread of crazy nonsense, Josh Marshall catches the New York Times calling the false claims about “death panels” “questionable but potentially damaging charges.”

Oh, the claims are “questionable,” are they? That's a relief! I thought the “death panels” were a certainty. Sure is great the New York Times is here to set the record straight and make clear that they are only a possibility!