'Death Panels' Will Be Sarah Palin's Greatest Legacy

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Sarah Palin has struggled to build her legacy since the 2008 election — she quit her job as Alaska governor, decided against running for president after a highly-publicized bus tour in 2011, and has had a complicated relationship with Fox News. Thankfully, though, the former vice presidential candidate reminded us Thursday night that at the very least, she has bestowed upon the United States a handy, ever-lasting two-word catchphrase: "death panels."

A "death panel," if you'll recall, is the idea that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, includes provisions that allows federal officials to evaluate and decide whether an individual is "worthy of health care." If these officials decide that someone is not worthy of care, the thinking goes, then they are essentially condemning the person to death. None of that's really true, of course. 

You might think that since the ACA has been deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court, implemented, and met its signup goals, that a made-up scare tactic like "death panels" would fade away. Not so

Fox News's Sean Hannity had Palin on his show Thursday, and what do you know? The two managed to work death panels into the conversation. Not about Obamacare, but instead another scandal plaguing the Obama administration: the VA patient delays and cover up

"Is the VA a death panel for many?" Hannity asked Palin. 

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"That's a great point," she responded.

Hannity turned to the crowd of fans standing in the background of the interview. "How many think it's a death panel for the VA?" he asked, and nearly every hand shot up in the air. 

So it doesn't matter that Politifact crowned "death panel" its Lie of the Year in 2009 – the phrase has staying power. It's easy to see why: "death panel" evokes an image of faceless bureaucrats rationing health care and sentencing the elderly and the infirm to death. It's a catch-all term for the ills of Obamacare, and with a little bit of effort, any Obama scandal. Palin wasn't the one to originate the idea (that would be Betsy McCaughey) but she did give it a name. In a Facebook post in 2009, Palin wrote: 

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

And thus, a star was born. A "death panels" refrain was taken up by everyone on the right railing against Obamacare. It prompted a study on political misinformation. It forced the Obama administration to take action. A Twitter search reveals a conversation going strong. And credit must be given to Palin. Even years later, she refuses to let "death panels" die.

So take heart, Palin. You may not be the far right's "campaign savior" anymore, but your words live on. Forget political office, your greatest accomplishment is a simple pair of words.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.