Do you ever wonder why discourse on public policy in America is so substandard? Or, to be blunt, why people in this country are so stupid?
A perfect example of why this is the case unfolded this week. We've all been following the heart-rending case of Sarah Murnaghan, the 10-year-old Newtown Square, Pa., girl who is in the last stages of cystic fibrosis and will likely die without a lung transplant.
Under current regulations she would have to wait for a pediatric donor because only those age 12 and older are candidates for adult lung transplants. Her family went public with her plight, attracted mass sympathy and got lots of politicians on board — so much that Kathleen Sebelius, the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, was questioned about the case at a Congressional hearing. She said she couldn't change the transplant rules for one case when there are 1,700 people nationwide on the waiting list for a lung, including 31 children under the age of 11. (A federal judge, however, temporarily ordered her on the adult list after the family sued.)
But here's how Rush Limbaugh, the top-rated host of talk radio, described the case to his listeners on Wednesday:“Kathleen Sebelius, have you heard about this? There's a little girl in Pennsylvania who is being denied a lung transplant because she's 10 years old. I lit a cigar in honor of Sarah Palin right as the program began. Death panels. Just exactly what Sarah Palin said, exactly what we all knew. Obamacare establishes death panels, and right now Sebelius is it. And that's what Obamacare says. I don't know how many times it says it in there, but the phrase ' as the secretary shall determine,' meaning the secretary of Health and Human Services. Well, Sebelius is determined a 10-year-old doesn't get the lung. She doesn't get a lung transplant 'cause she is 10 years old, and you have to be 12 to get a lung transplant under the current regulations. “Her congressman has begged Sebelius to waive the regulation, but she has refused. The congressman's a Republican. Of course Sebelius would refuse. But I remember how people laughed. I remember how the media said, ' Ah, you Republicans, ah, you conservatives, you're just over the top. There aren't any death panels. What are you talking about?' Look, I'm not even gonna sit here and say that Sebelius is wrong to not intervene, but they're death panels.'
That was simply so wrong, on so many levels, that the distortions had to be intentional.
The Murnaghan case has nothing to do with Obamacare, aka the Affordable Health Act. Most of it doesn't even go into effect until next year. The current rules governing transplants were set up in 2004, when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, and Obama was still sitting in the Illinois state Senate. There is no such thing as “death panels,' a phrase that was invented by Palin, the dim-witted losing vice presidential candidate from 2008.
Sebelius didn't “determine' anything in the case. And there has been no hint that partisan politics has played any role whatsoever here.
People who believe “the king of talk radio' wouldn't know any of that, of course. They just sit there and swallow the bile he and so many other right-wing talkers regurgitate hour after hour, day after day. Then they get mad and they stew. And then hopefully they pull the Republican lever on Election Day.
The frightening fact is, too many people these days get their “facts' from these folks. They don't read the newspapers or expose themselves to any other objective sources of news. There's a segment of the political spectrum that declared war so long ago on the “mainstream media' that its alleged “bias' is generally accepted as fact. Not enough people are willing to expose themselves to views that are different from theirs. Why should they? It's so much easier to flip on the talk-radio dial or cozy up to that favorite cable TV “news' channel.
But those paying attention to the Sarah Murnaghan case know how ridiculously wrong Rush Limbaugh's version of the story really is.