Monday, November 15, 2010


Paul Krugman -- you know, the "extremist" who, according to conventional wisdom, embodies infantile left-wing ideological unwillingness to have an "adult conversation" about the deficit and debt -- was on ABC's This Week yesterday and made a rather serious argument about the Bowles/Simpson and deficit reduction:

If they were going to do reality therapy, they should have said, OK, look, Medicare is going to have to decide what it's going to pay for. And at least for starters, it's going to have to decide which medical procedures are not effective at all and should not be paid for at all. In other words, it should have endorsed the panel that was part of the health care reform.

If it's not even -- if the commission isn't even brave enough to take on the death panels people, then it's doing no good at all. It's not educating the public. It's not telling people about the kinds of choices that need to be made.

Later he said:

Some years down the pike, we're going to get the real solution, which is going to be a combination of death panels and sales taxes. It's going to be that we're actually going to take Medicare under control, and we're going to have to get some additional revenue, probably from a VAT. But it's not going to happen now.

Reaction on the right ranged from, well, deliberately misleading to uncomprehending to outright ignorant. NewsBusters: "Paul Krugman Recommends 'Death Panels' to Help Balance Budget." Glenn Beck's Blaze: "Did Paul Krugman Really Recommend 'Death Panels' to Balance the Budget?" More of the same from Newsmax (which, you may recall, seriously sought to buy Newsweek) and one A-list right-wing blog after another. An anti-Krugman blog -- which, given its focus, is run by someone who presumably claims some ability to understand the arguments Krugman makes -- responds this way:

Paul Krugman Was Against Death Panels Before He Was For Them -- Before He Never Said It

When Sarah Palin wrote last year that ObamaCare would lead to "death panels," the Usual Suspects howled, along with Paul Krugman....

Fast forward to Krugman's November 14 appearance on ABC's "This Week" in which he not only claimed that the budget would need to get under control via controlling healthcare costs, but he specifically used the term "death panels" as a cost-controlling device....

So, after having made fun of Palin, calling her a liar and worse, Krugman himself endorses such a thing....

A few thoughts here.

We're told by the conventional wisdom mongers that the lefty "extremists" who oppose Bowles/Simpson think there's no need for any sacrifice, ever, and yet here's Krugman calling not only for Medicare cost containment but for a national sales tax.

It's the right that's unyielding.

Beyond that, notice the right's real or feigned inability to comprehend plain English -- some (probably Palin and Beck) literally don't understand why "death panels" is a grotesque misnomer, while others (Palin and Beck's Fox bosses and the right-wing media voices that parrot Fox) deliberately, cynically encourage ignorance in the populace. If getting our budgets in order is critical, doesn't that ignorance, and the encouragement of ignorance, deserve a lot more censure than it's getting?

I blame Krugman a bit for this kerfuffle. He thought the right-wingers would actually grasp that his snarky use of "death panels" in the second excerpt really meant "what idiots like Sarah Palin call 'death panels.'" This is a typical lefty problem -- assuming verbal sophistication on the part of a mass audience, and assuming that right-wing total-war elitists won't pounce on an verbal sophistication if its meaning can be distorted in a way that inflames the unsophisticated. (This happens to Barack Obama all the time.)

Krugman's meaning is abundantly clear. If certain treatments are more expensive and less effective than others, government programs should favor thriftier treatments that are as effective or more effective. If we routinely do maximalist care in the last months of life, with government programs picking up most of the bill, we should encourage discussions of alternatives to heroic measures at that stage of life (which many people don't want anyway).

Krugman restated his meaning in a follow-up blog post -- but many of the ignorant (and or ignorance-inducing) righties read that post and were unimpressed. That's because they either believe Sarah Palin's definition of "death panels" was accurate or they want the mass public to believe it is. It would be nice if that would upset "serious" centrists more than it does -- but I'm not naive enough to expect that.


UPDATE: Donald Douglas -- stupid or willfully misleading? You decide.

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