John McCain on Death Panels

By Conor Clarke

I'll beat the dead horse of death panels once more. On "The Week With George Stephanopoulos," John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, had this to say about the Sarah Palin death-panel rumors (via Steve Benen):

MCCAIN:  Well, I think that what we are talking about here is do -- are we going to have groups that actually advise people as these decisions are made later in life and ...

STEPHANOPOULOS:  That's not in the bill.

MCCAIN:  But -- it's been taken out, but the way that it was written made it a little bit ambiguous.

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"Ambiguous." Thus do we witness McCain joining the prestigious Michael Steele school of literary criticism. You see, a health-care bill is really a lot like Hamlet or The Wasteland. Interpretations may vary. Where some scholars find an utterly innocuous and optional expansion of Medicare coverage, others might see a program akin to mandatory government euthanasia.

I have expressed my frustration with this tactic many times before, and I know it is getting tedious. But, to recap, the tactic is this: (1) Make a preposterous and false claim about a bill. (2) Have the claim disproved. (3) Avoid defending the original claim, but instead observe that the controversy reflects "a legitimate difference of interpretation" about what might happen in the future. Effective opposition in three easy steps!

And so we have a conundrum: Ignore the tactic, and let the falsehood persist, or engage with the tactic, and play into the false appearance of legitimate debate. I do not have a good solution. The best I can do is repeat, with endless tedium, that the bill is not ambiguous and the original claim is still false. I can further add that people who hide falsehoods behind the smokescreen of an equally false ambiguity are doing a fabulous job of destroying legitimate public discourse.

Cross-posted to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish

(Photo: John McCain's Official Senate Portrait)

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/08/john-mccain-on-death-panels/23688/