Nat Hentoff, a long-time columnist for the liberal Village Voice, has changed teams to work for World Net Daily, a far-right Republican blog. For those unfamiliar with WND, it was the birthplace of the birther movement, and currently publishes regular columns by Chuck Norris, Tom Tancredo, Ann Coutler, Phyllis Schlafley, Pat Buchanan, John Stossel, Michael Savage, Jerome Corsi, former Judge Roy Moore and Pat Boone, among many others whose names are listed here.
In case you think that Hentoff is at WND as resident house liberal, he's not -- he really has drifted way over to the right. For one thing, he's also on the payroll of the libertarian think tank Cato Institute. And then there's his position on health care reform...
In August, 2009, Hentoff published a column at WND promoting the false idea that the Obama administration planned to institute "death panels" as part of health care reform. Hentoff's column, entitled Obama, Congress to decide when you die?, repeats a number of the right-wing talking points concerning "death panels", such as the idea that the government would compel the elderly to attend counseling sessions where they would be steered away from medically necessary treatment as a cost saving measure. The column, which consists largely of quotes from a Washington Post oped and a Washington Times article, points an accusing finger at Rahm Emanuel's brother Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, who advises the Obama administration on bioethics. Hentoff portrays him as the evil mastermind of a covert plan to deprive the elderly of health care and shuffle them unceremoniously off the Medicare rolls and this mortal coil.
Hentoff published the column on August 19, during the feeding frenzy of town hall teabagging activism. It parrots spurious charges which originated with anti-reform activist Betsy McCaughey, previously best known for authoring an influential 1993 New Republic article containing similarly false charges concerning the Clinton administration's health care proposal. McCaughey's New Republic article was a critical factor in the defeat of the Clinton plan, providing many of the talking points used by the Senate Republicans and right wing pundits. (Read James Fallows on take on that here. The official Clinton administration debunking is here.) McCaughey's "death panel" charges, which she published in July 2009, gained traction after they were repeated by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, among many others. Although these charges were thoroughly debunked as false and were publicly condemned by many pundits, they helped fuel the outrage expressed at town hall forums. This led Democrats to remove from the proposed reforms government sponsorship of counseling and living will preparation for the elderly to avoid a distracting political battle.
Alex Koppelman writing in Salon provided a strong debunking of the manufactured "death panels" controversy within two weeks of McCaughey's starting it. (Read it here.) Koppelman gives a fair assessment of Dr. Emanuel's lifelong commitment to improving healthcare for the elderly, which has been a focus of his work. Reading this column in the same sitting as the Hentoff column brought into focus the sheer madness of the "death panel" charges. Koppelman's column was published on August 10, nine days prior to Hentoff's. Hentoff completely ignored the counterarguments to the absurd "death panel" claims, choosing instead to credulously rely on McCaughey, Palin and the other partisans.
Most people who remember Hentoff think of him as a defender of free speech, and in this column he tried to continue to play that role. To end it with a flourish, he worked himself into a state of high dudgeon over Democratic criticism of the astroturf campaign of town hall disruptions, before concluding with an outraged, outrageous non-sequitur.
"Condemning the furor at town-hall meetings around the country as "un-American," Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are blind to truly participatory democracy – as many individual Americans believe they are fighting, quite literally, for their lives.
"I wonder whether Obama would be so willing to promote such health care initiatives if, say, it were 60 years from now, when his children will – as some of the current bills seem to imply – have lived their fill of life years, and the health care resources will then be going to the younger Americans?"
I don't see the connection between those two completely baseless statements, the first defending free speech against an illusory attack, the second accusing President Obama of the worst kind of hypocrisy and lack of concern for human life. I don't believe that those corporate-funded town hall demonstrations represented "individual Americans...fighting for their lives" and, most to the point, I didn't see any Democratic proposals which would have curtailed the lives of the elderly. I strongly defend the constitutional rights of Americans to teabag as they see fit -- the Constitution protects political speech no matter how foolish. But the stuff spouted by the teabaggers reminded me of World Net Daily: conspiratorial right-wing drivel. Hentoff may believe he's supporting those who oppose health care reform, but all he's doing is stirring up their irrational fears.