Dunsmore: The big lie

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(HOST) The health care reform debate has dominated the news this month. But in commentator Barrie Dunsmore’s opinion, Americans remain more confused and uncertain than ever – and this is a bad omen for more than health care.

(DUNSMORE) It was to be expected. It’s difficult to have a debate about proposed health care reform when there is no specific health care plan to debate. One House committee has passed its proposals, as has one Senate committee. But other committees have different ideas. And once each chamber has passed its version, both bills will have to be reconciled into one.

So, although we know most of the concepts that are being discussed, we don’t know yet what final form the legislation will take. What we’ve been witnessing this month is a very nasty fight between those who want certain things in the actual reform bill – and those who are trying to torpedo the whole idea of reform.  That latter group now seems to have the edge.

They have done so with the tactics of fear and falsehood. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been in the forefront of this campaign by charging that her aging parents and her Down Syndrome baby, and this is her exact quote, "…will have to stand in front of Obama’s death panel." Immediately the right-wing echo chamber of Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and Fox News took up the "death panel" chant, while very few Republican leaders had the courage to challenge this calumny and in some cases even nodded their agreement with it.  

The notion that Obama’s reform plans include a death panel – a term which conjures up the image of handicapped children and old people being euthanized – is outrageous. But it’s also been contagious. It’s what is known by master propagandists as the big lie.  People on Medicare, and I am one of them, are of course concerned about how the new reform plan will affect their coverage. The intent of the big lie is to feed pensioners’ anxieties to include fear, not just of death panels, but of all aspects of reforming the system.

Among the many troubling aspects of this episode is the apparent impotence of most of the mainstream media’s real effort to debunk the death panel charge.  As Howard Kurtz, the media critic of the Washington Post, put it, "They tried to perform last rites on the ludicrous claim about President Obama’s death panels, telling Sarah Palin, in effect, you’ve got to quit making things up. But it didn’t matter. The story refused to die."

Recent opinion polls bear that out. An NBC poll found that 45 percent of those surveyed believed health care reform would allow the government to cut off care for the elderly. Among FOX News viewers that number rose to 75%.

It’s hard to have a debate on an important issue when facts or the truth do not matter. This transcends the question of health care reform and may apply next to climate change. When large numbers of people are effectively saying – don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up – that gives blatantly deceitful opponents of any kind of reform a distinct advantage.

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