The stories don’t even have to be true to be useful. In December, Big Government’s Michael Walsh put together a list of the top stories the mainstream media missed in 2009. Number four: Sarah Palin’s claim that the health care bill included a “death panel” that would decide the fate of the infirm and disabled. Of course, Palin’s claim — thoroughly discredited — was one of the most widely covered stories of the year. But for Walsh, none of that mattered. Death panels were “a marker for the entire Sarah Palin story,” he says. “Sarah Palin makes the Left’s heads explode. If only for that, it belongs on the list.”
Nyhan focuses on this as an example of conservative postmodernism and indifference to the truth. But I think what’s more interesting about it is how thoroughly it partakes of what Nietzsche would have called ressentiment, an emotion that’s increasingly central to the modern right and especially the appeal of Sarah Palin.
The central thing here isn’t the vanishing of truth as a criteria so much as it is the disappearance of any kind of meaningful political agenda at all. Instead there’s this love of Palin as a kind of martyr/tormentor figure who exists to drive liberals batty and be the subject of our putatively unfair persecution, with nonsensical defenses of her becoming all the more meritorious for the fact that they drive liberals even battier.
This is actually just what makes it so hard to take a lot of conservative opposition to the health care bill seriously. You get the sense that if President Mitt Romney were poised to sign a bill agreed to by Chuck Grassley and Max Baucus to provide tax credits to subsidize the purchase of private health insurance, while Bernie Sanders complained about the lack of public option that Palin fans would be hailing Romney—he may not be very conservative, but he sure knows how to make Jane Hamsher’s head explode!