Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, recently claimed that the health care reform legislation on Capitol Hill features death panels. Palin asserts that there will be death panels made up of federal bureaucrats that will assess patients’ “level of productivity in society” in order to decide if they are worthy of healthcare. This is of course nonsense. But the stupidity of it is that no Republican has seized the opportunity to scold Palin for making such ridiculous claims.
The advantage for any noteworthy Republican to call Palin on her nonsense is to demonstrate in the context of the healthcare debate that the GOP is not a band of kooks. In other words, it is a Sister Souljah moment that has yet to attract a courageous Republican lawmaker. By repudiating Palin’s claims the GOP would signal to centrist voters that the Republican Party is not beholden to the extremist right. Further, picking a fight with Palin on this is sure to attract media attention and give that brave Republican an opportunity to command the spotlight for the purpose of highlighting valid Republican objections to the healthcare reform legislation.
Some Republicans, like Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) have acknowledged that there are no death panels, but that is different from discounting Palin as being nuts. It is not enough to say she is wrong, it needs to be said that she is a rogue seeking attention and does not speak for the GOP.
The ideal group of GOPers to call out Palin’s lunacy is the Tuesday Group, a collection of moderate Republicans in the U.S. House. Within this group are a number of extremely intelligent and capable legislators. Among them is Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO). Thoughtful and experienced, she has represented Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District since 1996, meaning she is a proven entity and not am aberrant political personality like Palin. Rep. Emerson’s House tenure makes her safe at home, providing the political capital to rise to a Palin confrontation.
Another House Republican who would do well in challenging Palin is Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ). Rep. Lance has offered a healthcare reform proposal that is thoughtful although not encompassing (as it lacks budget specifics). As a long time state lawmaker, Lance has the intellect and legislative acumen to challenge Palin in a manner that would raise his political profile and help him in his re-election efforts as he seeks a second term in 2010.
For Republicans to let Palin run free on her death panel foolishness is to allow the GOP to continue to be defined by its worst messenger. Palin has proven herself to be wacky, strange and egocentric. Yet, she proliferates the media like a virus. In so doing she defines the Republican Party by her conduct and opinions, a definition that will harm GOP chances at the polls in future elections.
Palin does not have the mental tools to be constructively commentating on healthcare reform, much less be the face of Republican opposition. The fact that she is getting headlines for making outrageous claims about healthcare reform should worry every Republican dedicated to making the GOP relevant again. There is a rare opportunity here, if only one daring Republican would take the charge and repudiate Palin’s credibility.