HUCKABEE DABBLES IN ‘DEATH PANELS’…. And here I thought anyone who even hoped to be taken seriously at the national level knew to avoid “death panel” nonsense.

In his new book, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R), who seems to be slipping further and further from sanity, blasts the very idea of “comparative effectiveness research” in the Affordable Care Act, arguing that it “planted the seeds from which the poisonous tree of death panels will grow.” Seriously, that’s what he wrote.

Making matters slightly worse, Huckabee added that “the very old and the very young” will be denied care under this nefarious scheme, along with “those who don’t live politically correct lives.”

The evidence is starting to mount: this guy really is losing it.

Paul Krugman offered a helpful reminder about what this policy is all about.

[W]hile the government does have a long-run fiscal problem, that problem is overwhelmingly driven by rising health care costs…. So if you’re serious about deficits, you shouldn’t be pinching pennies now; you should be looking for ways to rein in health spending over the long term. And that means taking exactly the steps that had those G.O.P. staffers sneering.

Think of it this way: Congress could, with a stroke of a pen, cut Social Security benefits in half. But it couldn’t do the same with health spending: Medicare can’t suddenly start paying to replace only half a heart valve or mandate that bypass operations stop halfway through.

Limiting health costs, therefore, requires a smarter approach. We need to work harder on prevention, which can be much cheaper than a cure. We need to find innovative ways of managing health care. And, above all, we need to know what works and what doesn’t so that Medicare and Medicaid can say no to expensive procedures with little or no medical benefit. “So-called comparative effectiveness research” is central to any rational attempt to deal with America’s fiscal problems.

But today’s Republicans just aren’t into rationality. They claim to care deeply about deficits — but they’ve spent the past two years putting cynical, demagogic attacks on any attempt to actually deal with long-run deficits at the heart of their campaign strategy.

The nonsense in Huckabee’s book obviously qualifies.

This really isn’t that complicated. CER is not a nefarious scheme that will lead to bureaucratic overlords dictating which patients are eligible to receive which services; it’s simply about identifying the most reliable and effective medical treatments. What’s more, it helps prevent wasteful spending — which the right is supposed to take seriously.

And yet, there’s Mike Huckabee, by some measures, the leading Republican presidential candidate for 2012, connecting CER to “death panels” that will kill off the elderly, children, and “those who don’t live politically correct lives.”

How anyone can take this guy seriously is a mystery.

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.