Why We Can't Have Good Policy
So Sarah Palin was for death panels before she was against them. Sen. Johnny Isakson's staff is blasting out press releases emphasizing the difference between Isakson's amendment and the House bill when Isakson has, in the past, supported much stronger — and wiser — measures than anything considered by the House. Chuck Grassley, who surely knows better, is carefully calibrating his words to sound like he's opposing end-of-life directives. The House version of the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit — the more conservative version of a Republican bill — turns out to have included end-of-life counseling provisions. Let's not even get started on Newt Gingrich.
Isakson, alone among these politicians, had the courage to defend the concept in his conversation with me, even if his staff did scramble when the White House used Isakson as a prop. Since then, though, plenty of politicians have had an opportunity to step forward and say that end-of-life counseling is a good idea, but there's been virtually no effort to do so. Instead, we've had a lot of carefully-crafted language meant to imply that the speaker disagreed with this awful Democratic plan even as the specific words didn't quite rule this out.
The point here isn't that politicians play to public sentiment. It's that in the judgment of these professionals, there's no political upside to doing the responsible thing. You get more mileage from bowing to the base than from stepping out and defending a good policy that's long been touted by respected conservatives. End-of-life counseling is, in the final analysis, a fairly small issue, but the speed with which its former defenders have agreed to polarize and abandon it is terribly depressing. And they wouldn't be doing that if they didn't think it the right move for their careers.
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