THE PLANK AUGUST 18, 2009
It's not exactly William F. Buckley taking on the Birchers, but the clearer heads over at National Review have been making tentative, intermittent efforts to disassociate conservatism from its craziest adherents. The problem, of course, is that some of those adherents work for National Review. Two weeks ago, Jon Chait noted that editor Rich Lowry's declaration, "The birthers have been denounced by every reputable conservative," would seem to indicate he considers contributing editor Andy McCarthy, a birther apologist, disreputable or, possibly, so far right that he no longers qualifies as "conservative."
To conclude from these possibilities to the accusation that President Obama's favored legislation will lead to “death panels” deciding whose life has sufficient value to be saved — let alone that Obama desires this outcome — is to leap across a logical canyon. It may well be that in a society as litigious as ours, government will err on the side of spending more rather than treating less. But that does not mean that there is nothing to worry about. Our response to Sarah Palin’s fans and her critics is to paraphrase Peter Viereck: We should be against hysteria — including hysteria about hysteria.
For obvious reasons, McCarthy was not about to see hysteria so cruelly slighted:
I don't see any wisdom in taking a shot at Governor Palin at this moment when, finding themselves unable to defend the plan against her indictment, Democrats have backed down and withdrawn their "end-of-life counseling" boards. Palin did a tremendous service here. Opinion elites didn't like what the editors imply is the "hysteria" of her "death panels" charge. Many of those same elites didn't like Ronald Reagan's jarring "evil empire" rhetoric. But "death panels" caught on with the public just like "evil empire" did because, for all their "heat rather than light" tut-tutting, critics could never quite discredit it.
Well, no, I suppose there were, and are, some people for whom the idea could not be "discredited," just as there are some who will cling to the idea that Obama was born abroad regardless of the evidence provided to them. But this tells us more about a particular paranoid strand of conservative political discourse than it does about the underlying facts of the matter, just as UFO enthusiasts generally reveal more about their own mental states than about astrobiology. Indeed, I suspect there are people out there somewhere who believe that Andy McCarthy is a fourth grader, or a dachshund, or a hallucination resulting from medications they received as infants, and no evidence he ever offers is going to persuade them otherwise.