THE EVOLUTION OF A LIE…. Earlier this year, Tom Daschle hosted some public discussions on health care, and would occasionally be confronted with questions about “forced euthanasia.” In general, he was delighted. “Almost automatically you have most of the audience on your side,” Daschle said. “Any rational normal person isn’t going to believe that assertion.”

Alas, normal rationality is in short supply when Republican leaders are egging on enraged right-wing activists with talk of “death panels.”

The New York Times has a terrific item today, explaining not only that this ridiculous claim is “false,” but just as importantly, how this nonsense was inserted into the mainstream.

[I]t has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).

There is nothing in any of the legislative proposals that would call for the creation of death panels or any other governmental body that would cut off care for the critically ill as a cost-cutting measure. But over the course of the past few months, early, stated fears from anti-abortion conservatives that Mr. Obama would pursue a pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia agenda, combined with twisted accounts of actual legislative proposals that would provide financing for optional consultations with doctors about hospice care and other “end of life” services, fed the rumor to the point where it overcame the debate.

Hmm. The Washington Times, the American Spectator and Betsy McCaughey team up to deceive the nation. What could possibly go wrong? They have a terrific track record when it comes to Democratic presidents and domestic policy, right?

The NYT added that George Neumayr, who’s written about this for the American Spectator, said “he saw no reason to stop making the claim.” Of course not. Just because it’s obviously wrong is no reason for conservative to alter agreed upon talking points.

On a related note, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R) of Georgia said this week that the “death panels” talk is “nuts,” but has spent the rest of the week trying to convince reporters that his own support for end-of-life planning is far different than House Democratic proposals for end-of-life planning. It’s a wildly unpersuasive pitch.

But more important is the fact that if we look at the original Isakson plan on voluntary advance care planning, we find that the conservative Georgia Republican actually proposed mandatory end-of-life counseling for Medicare beneficiaries. In other words, Isakson wanted to go further than House Democrats on this. Under his proposal, “[I]f you turned 65 and failed (or refused) to file a living will, you simply wouldn’t be able to use Medicare.”

And as long as we’re on the subject, let’s also not forget that Sarah Palin, who introduced the ridiculous notion of “death panels” into the lexicon, has some experience on this issue: “[O]n April 16th 2008, then Gov. Sarah Palin endorsed some of the same end of life counseling she now decries as a form of euthanasia.”

Palin, it seems, was for end-of-life counseling before she was using it to scare the bejesus out of confused conservative activists.

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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.