PAWLENTY CONSIDERS ‘DEATH PANEL’ NONSENSE REASONABLE…. We talked earlier about the lengths Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) will go to pander to the GOP’s right-wing base in advance of his presidential campaign. Yesterday, that included support for fringe “Tenther” rhetoric, a throwback to 18th-century conservatism.

This morning, on MSNBC, Pawlenty went a little further still, expressing some support for “death panel” nonsense. As Greg Sargent reported, “Asked the first time if there are death panels in the bills, Pawlenty dodged the question and said that the proposal could ‘incentivize end of life counseling,’ which raised ‘legitimate’ questions and concerns that are ‘not irrational.’ Asked a second time, Pawlenty suggested that the death panel ‘label’ was a side issue.

“Asked a third time, Pawlenty dodged again, saying that in 10 years, ballooning costs could lead to a scale-back of care and suggested it’s legit to fear that the government would be ’empowered to do that.’ Finally Pawlenty acknowledged that the bill doesn’t contain death panels and won’t give government authority to tell people whether they live or die — and then still added that ‘indirect concerns’ are ‘not irrational’”!

Note, in the video, after Pawlenty stumbled along the death-panel road, Mike Barnicle graciously offered the governor a chance to walk it back, noting how crazy his earlier comments were. Instead of setting the record straight, Pawlenty ironically said “facts matter,” baseless fears are “not irrational,” and we should all have a “reasonable debate about that without one side or the other just calling each other names.”

Right. Pawlenty, spiraling quickly into a hackish oblivion, wants to suggest to a national television audience that the government may let bureaucrats kill seniors and the disabled. The real problem, though, is that someone might call him a lunatic for saying something so ridiculous.

If I had to guess, I’d wager Pawlenty knows how insane his own rhetoric is. It’s why I almost feel sorry for him — he feels compelled to be a deliberate fool in the hopes that it’ll make him president. It’s tragic, in a way, to see an adult humiliate himself in the hopes of placating unhinged 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.