Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Huck sings a new hymn

Yep, Mike Huckabee is running for president again in 2012. The small Republican base wants to hear vitriol, no matter how irrational, aimed at the country’s black president, and Huckabee delivered last week, uttering a version of the idea that President Obama wants to kill old, sick people like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, thrilled the base with two words, “death panels,” so Huckabee decided to go her one better.

Huckabee started a commentary on his Fox TV show and his online column by saying that Democrats were going to try to make political hay off Kennedy’s death. Then he proceeded to make political hay off Kennedy’s death.

First, he said how much he loved the guy, mainly because he was a genuine liberal and not a fake one like most of the rest he knew. He liked Kennedy a lot better than unprincipled conservatives. He recalled that he and Kennedy had sat beside each other years ago at a Senate hearing. Both of them testified for a little socialized medicine, a bill to guarantee government support for the care of children with developmental disabilities. As governor, he was among the country’s foremost champions of government-paid health care for children, although it was not socialized medicine when he was for it. When President Bush wanted to cut back the government’s role in medicating children, Huckabee would not support him.

Now that President Obama wants to see to it that all Americans, poor as well as the rich, sick as well as the able-bodied, have health insurance, Huckabee calls it socialism. He accuses the president, through “Obamacare,” of wanting to stop the disabled and the elderly sick from getting life-saving medical attention. Nothing in any of the bills before Congress and nothing in anything Obama has ever said could lead to that conclusion. Obama has repeatedly said that any health plan must protect people’s freedom to choose the insurance, the care and the doctor they want. That applies to people who already have health insurance through private plans or Medicare and Medicaid, as well as those who would be brought into the system under the mandate of each of the bills.

But while describing his affection and admiration for Kennedy’s courage in his fight against brain cancer, Huckabee said that under Obamacare, Kennedy would have been told to go home, take pain pills and die. Kennedy underwent surgery for the brain cancer last year. At the end, he chose not to have more invasive care.

Part of Huckabee’s remark came from Palin’s popular but wholly fictional story about Obama’s “death panels,” which would put people like her disabled baby and her aging parents to death because they were not useful citizens. That was a silly interpretation of a Republican-sponsored amendment to the Senate health bill that would have had Medicare reimburse doctors when patients and families consulted with them about terminal care. The sponsor, Sen. Johnny Isaakson, R-Georgia, called her description “nutty.”

In the storm of protests about Huckabee’s contemptible comment, he cited the president’s remark at a town-hall meeting when they were discussing expensive and often useless end-of-life medical procedures. Obama said people with terminal illnesses could consider whether they wanted to undergo surgery that might add a short period of life or draw their last breaths in relative comfort. They do that now, and nothing would change under the bills. It would be a family choice.

It is a dilemma that every family and most likely each of us will face: a surgically implanted feeding tube for a comatose mother who had said she did not want such agony, or still another round of radiation? One way to interpret Huckabee’s remarks — it’s the way he would interpret them if Obama had uttered them — is that he would not allow people to make such choices. The government would tell the patient and the doctors that the surgery must be performed. The doc and the hospital need the money.

We liked the 2008 version, the kinder, gentler Huckabee, much better than the scorched-earth Huckabee of 2009. We like the one who said on his campaign Web site, “The health-care system in this country is irrevocably broken. . .” and who said, back when he sensed that it was popular, that the government had an obligation to see that children and the needy, including illegal aliens, had medical attention. That is the one who boasted that his proudest accomplishment was using taxpayer funds to provide medical care to Arkansas children.

Alas, we are not apt to see him anymore.