PEARLSTEIN MAKES IT PLAIN…. Publius had a good item the other day on the way in which the fight over health care reform is playing out. As he explained it, the problem isn’t so much with corporate interests organizing protestors to oppose reform, but rather, the “flat-out lying” pushed by activists and disseminated by the modern communications networks.

He added that this is a “test” of whether major media institutions are “capable of informing the public.” Publius concluded, “This misinformation campaign poses a deep and fundamental challenge to our country…. [C]an our media inform the public? If people are lying, will the public know?”

It’s a genuine cause for concern. Because reality has a well-known liberal bias, right-wing criticisms of health care reform are reported as plausible, and Americans are understandably confused about who’s telling the truth. In order for the system to function, Americans need some kind of independent institution(s) that can separate fact from fiction, and can identify, plainly and factually, which side is trying to deceive the nation.

We need, in other words, more columns like this one from the Washington Post‘s Steven Pearlstein.

As a columnist who regularly dishes out sharp criticism, I try not to question the motives of people with whom I don’t agree. Today, I’m going to step over that line.

The recent attacks by Republican leaders and their ideological fellow-travelers on the effort to reform the health-care system have been so misleading, so disingenuous, that they could only spring from a cynical effort to gain partisan political advantage. By poisoning the political well, they’ve given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They’ve become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems.

There are lots of valid criticisms that can be made against the health reform plans moving through Congress — I’ve made a few myself. But there is no credible way to look at what has been proposed by the president or any congressional committee and conclude that these will result in a government takeover of the health-care system. That is a flat-out lie whose only purpose is to scare the public and stop political conversation. […]

Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society — whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.

I don’t doubt that Republicans will be outraged by Pearlstein’s column, because he failed to honor the forced he-said/she-said neutrality that the right counts on to confuse Americans (“Republicans said today that health care reform might lead government agents to kill your grandparents; Democrats disagreed”).

But that’s what makes columns like these so important. Pearlstein has watched professional liars engage in a campaign of deception, so he’s telling the public the truth. And in this case, a major political party is deliberately lying so they can derail the health care reform Americans have been waiting for.

This is a test of our civil society, and with more columns like Pearlstein’s, we might pass the test after all.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.