The ongoing health care debate is allowing a newly unencumbered Sarah Palin to flex her muscles and show the left that she is more than just a pretty face.
When it comes to matters of political relevance, the power of raw materials can never be understated, or underestimated. Nothing can replace a megawatt smile, effortless and genuine charisma, and solid communications skills.
For the American left, a little-known state senator named showed, in 2004, that he had those raw materials in spades. He was likable, eloquent, attractive and new. His worldview was rooted in Marxism (a bonus for the left), his political instincts as a potential candidate were without rival, and he was a community organizer to boot. Four short years later, Barack Obama found himself some brilliant political strategists with which to surround himself, and using new technology and ideas for outreach he put together perhaps the most effective campaign machine in history.
For the American right, perhaps the greatest natural deposit of political raw materials–much like actual ones–can be found in the great state of Alaska. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, thrust upon the scene by a horrible presidential candidate who not only refused to allow her merits overwhelm her shortcomings but also himself refused to do what it took to get elected, has proven that she can gain and maintain the trust of much of the conservative base, even in the face of media scrutiny like no other candidate has ever seen.
Palin has proven herself to be an American everywoman, a politician as truly removed from the trappings of Beltway power as Barack Obama convinced everyone he was. In fact, she was so much an everywoman–what governor cooks for her own children?–that a threatened left-leaning media abandoned every remaining shred of objectivity and professionalism and worked full-time to derail not only her candidacy, but her personal life.
Now, while Palin had far more relevant executive experience than any of the other candidates, on either side of the ballot, in 2010, she did lack foundational knowledge of national and foreign policy, undoubtedly a byproduct of pursuing a career in a state so far removed from Capitol Hill. On one hand, that may be a good thing, as people like and trust someone with which they can relate and who is not consumed by Washington politics, but on the other hand it has left a noticeable dearth of command when it comes to the nitty-gritty of major issues.
Enter the health care debate. A few days ago, Palin made reference to “death panels” on her Facebook page. After spending the previous month trying to convince the American people that her decision to leave the Alaskan state house was a death knell to her political relevance, the left worked overtime to counter that simple statement, accusing her and the right of purposely trying to scare seniors and others into opposing health care reform. Barack Obama addressed it personally, like others in his party arguing that Palin’s interpretation of the contents of the House health legislation had been based on fabricated statements that simply were not in the bill. In short, they knew that a certain segment of the population dismissed Palin outright because of that perceived lack of command of the issues, and they preyed upon that perception. She’s not a mental giant, they said. She’s seeing things that aren’t there. How dare she use her own special needs child to make a point.
But Palin responded, by filling in the blanks. In another unconventional approach to outreach, Palin just yesterday released another statement on her Facebook page, this time addressing the president directly, getting into specifics, citing her interpretation, and breaking down exactly how she had come to the “death panel” conclusion. An excerpt:
The provision that President Obama refers to is Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.”  With all due respect, it’s misleading for the President to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients. The issue is the context in which that information is provided and the coercive effect these consultations will have in that context.
Section 1233 authorizes advanced care planning consultations for senior citizens on Medicare every five years, and more often “if there is a significant change in the health condition of the individual … or upon admission to a skilled nursing facility, a long-term care facility… or a hospice program.”  During those consultations, practitioners must explain “the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice,” and the government benefits available to pay for such services. 
Now put this in context. These consultations are authorized whenever a Medicare recipient’s health changes significantly or when they enter a nursing home, and they are part of a bill whose stated purpose is “to reduce the growth in health care spending.”  Is it any wonder that senior citizens might view such consultations as attempts to convince them to help reduce health care costs by accepting minimal end-of-life care? As Charles Lane notes in the Washington Post, Section 1233 “addresses compassionate goals in disconcerting proximity to fiscal ones…. If it’s all about obviating suffering, emotional or physical, what’s it doing in a measure to “bend the curve” on health-care costs?” 
Palin was clear, concise, articulate, impressive and persuasive. It was obvious that, unlike so many of the elected officials currently reluctantly fanning out to their respective districts from the safety and security of Capitol Hill, she had done her research.
And it worked. As of yesterday afternoon, the Associated Press was reporting that committees were pulling the questionable provision from the bill entirely.
Today, it’s not even noon and I’ve heard from pundits, commentators and anchors on the left more times than I can count that Palin couldn’t have written the support of her “death panel” assertion herself. That the same woman who “failed to name a single newspaper” when asked what she read by CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric simply was intellectually incapable of putting two sentences together on paper, nonetheless creating a persuasive argument based on fact and supported by liberal commentators’ own words.
That the mainstream press is attacking, personally, a woman who no longer holds a job in the public eye, is evidence in itself of exactly how much of a win Palin has orchestrated here. When it comes to her potential candidacy on the national stage, she does indeed have some shortcomings with regard to command of national policy issues — therefore, the best way to ensure political success in the future is to acknowledge those shortcomings and prevail over them. By reading everything she can get her hands on, and by hiring some stellar behind-the-scenes politicial advisers (someone in the mold of Karl Rove or Newt Gingrich, for instance), Palin could come back and truly surprise us all, even her most ardent supporters.
During the year or so leading up to last year’s presidential election, I wrote several times begrudgingly that Barack Obama was the perfect political candidate for his time and place. Should Palin do her homework, should she polish her capacity for argument and persuasion, all the while never relinquishing or diluting those raw materials, I think I could be writing the same thing about her in 18 months’ time.
The other thing I’m hearing from the usual suspects is that Palin herself endorsed end-of-life counseling in Alaska, as recently as July 3. This is true. The left-leaning Web site Think Progress details the provision, noting that it has been deleted from the Alaska governor’s Web site (that could be an issue, except that there is a new Alaskan governor):
WHEREAS, Healthcare Decisions Day is designed to raise public awareness of the need to plan ahead for healthcare decisions, related to end of life care and medical decision-making whenever patients are unable to speak for themselves and to encourage the specific use of advance directives to communicate these important healthcare decisions. [...]
WHEREAS, one of the principal goals of Healthcare Decisions Day is to encourage hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities, and hospices to participate in a statewide effort to provide clear and consistent information to the public about advance directives, as well as to encourage medical professionals and lawyers to volunteer their time and efforts to improve public knowledge and increase the number of Alaska’s citizens with advance directives.
WHEREAS, the Foundation for End of Life Care in Juneau, Alaska, and other organizations throughout the United States have endorsed this event and are committed to educating the public about the importance of discussing healthcare choices and executing advance directives.
On its face, such an endorsement may make Palin look hypocritical at best, but it’s important that you read into the context of not only the Alaskan directive, but of the congressional one as well. It’s the objective of the end-of-life counseling, as evidenced by the context of the provisions in their respective initiatives, which distinguishes the two.
The end-of-life counseling endorsed by Sarah Palin only a few weeks ago is intended to “provide clear and consistent information” to patients, to “raise public awareness” of end-of-life options; the end-of-life counseling provision in the Democrats’ bill in question, however, is included in a discussion of ways to cut health care costs. Again, Palin even acknowledges the distinction in her unconventional Facebook commentary:
With all due respect, it’s misleading for the President to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients. The issue is the context in which that information is provided and the coercive effect these consultations will have in that context.
The vast majority of health care costs are incurred during a patient’s final year or years of life. The president and the Democrats know this, and likely look at end-of-life care as the most effective area in which to reduce health care spending.
Look at it this way: If, at home, you’re a cat lady and own several dozen of the critters, perhaps the bulk of your grocery bill goes to cat litter. Cats, after all, have to urinate from time to time, and something must be provided in which to contain it. Let’s say for a moment that, out of habit, you have become accustomed to buying the best, most expensive brand of clumping and deodorizing cat litter, and you’re buying so much of it that such purchases make up $80 of every $100 spent on groceries. The best way for you to effectively cut costs isn’t to buy iceberg lettuce instead of romaine or switch to generic brand cereal instead of Kellogg’s; that might only reduce your bill from $100 to $96. Instead, the best way for you to cut your grocery bill is to buy the cheap litter at half the price, thus reducing your bill to $60 from $100.
End-of-life care is the cat litter of the health care system, and in knowing that every government-run program from Medicare to Social Security to the United States Postal Service goes bankrupt, end-of-life care is the Holy Grail for a party desperate to make any fiscal sense of their latest disastrous endeavor. All you need to do is look at the president’s own words with regard to cutting costs in end-of-life care, and you’ll see it for what it truly is.
Yes, Sarah Palin endorsed end-of-life counseling while she was governor of Alaska. As Barack Obama and the Democrats said over the past few days, such counseling is already in place to provide seniors and others with as much information as possible, and it is for that exact reason that Palin endorsed it. What’s different, what makes Palin and others believe the worst (besides a justified, inherent distrust of a strong federal government), is that the Democrats are proposing the counseling in the context of saving money — and in health care, there’s only one way to drastically save money: reducing the costs incurred by people as they near the end of their lives.
Attacking Sarah Palin, you see, is merely an effort by the left to distract America from the tanking public opinion toward their proposals, their party, and their president.