STEELE, PEARLSTEIN, AND DECIDING NOT TO SUFFER FOOLS GLADLY…. It usually goes unsaid, but one of the more common frustrations felt by supporters of health care reform is the sheer idiocy of so many of the effort’s critics. It’s fairly routine to hear proponents, in unguarded moments, sigh with a touch of indignation, “My God, we’re surrounded by liars and fools.*”

Earlier this month, for example, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Steven Pearlstein, unable to contain his disgust, explained, “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. ”

That was on August 6; the discourse has deteriorated further since, and the capacity of our political system to maintain a half-way reasonable debate has all but fallen apart. As evidence, consider RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s truly vile efforts this week. Pearlstein went over Steele’s Medicare arguments in detail and seemed amazed by how ridiculous they are.

After reading his broadside, one is left wondering exactly what health reform plan Steele thought he was attacking. At one point, Steele claims that Democrats would prevent Americans from keeping their doctors or an insurance plan they like. Later, he warns that government will soon be setting caps on how many heart surgeries could be performed in the United States each year. Where is he getting this stuff? Has the chairman of the Republican Party somehow gotten hold of a top-secret plan for a government takeover of the health-care system that GOP operatives snatched during a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters?

If all that sounds spurious and unsubstantiated, it is. And like many of the overstated claims in this column, its purpose is to highlight the lies, distortions and political scare tactics that Steele and other Republicans have used to poison the national debate over health reform.

Have you no shame, sir? Have you no shame?

Steven, I feel your pain.

* edited for clarity

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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.