LEAVE THE KIDS OUT OF IT…. Last month, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) launched an attack on the Affordable Care Act, suggesting it would have killed his daughter, who was born with a heart defect. The argument wasn’t just wrong — the rookie senator got literally ever relevant policy detail backwards — it was deeply offensive. Standards are admittedly low, but Johnson’s screed was unbecoming for a senator.

But the practice of right-wing opponents of health care reform needlessly exploiting their children is unfortunately common. Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), for example, famously used one of her children to launch her “death panel” lie.

And this week, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum (R) said he’s running in part because of one of his daughters, who was born with a genetic abnormality, wouldn’t survive in a country with “socialized medicine.”

“I look at how society with socialized medicine treats children like Bella, and children like Bella don’t survive,” Santorum told The Des Moines Register Monday, the first leg of a three-day swing through Iowa. “Children like Bella are not given the treatment that other children are given.”

Santorum said the new health care law, championed by President Barack Obama, will mean disabled people are denied care more often, and repealing it is the best way to address mounting national debt.

He said that disabled children are denied care today.

“It’s not like this isn’t happening now,” he said. “But it will happen more under a much more budgetarily-driven health care system.”

It’s hard to overstate how stupid this is. Indeed, it’s really just the “death panel” argument without the phrase.

Let’s quickly note some of the more routine flaws. First, the Affordable Care Act isn’t “socialized” medicine. Second, repealing the law would make the deficit go up, not down. Third, countries that do have socialized medicine don’t let sick children die just as a matter of course.

But that’s just dealing with Santorum’s idiocy on a surface level. Digging deeper, can Santorum point to any provisions in the law — literally, anything at all — that might prevent treatment for his ailing daughter? No, of course not. Because if he tried to address the law with some shred of intellectual seriousness, Santorum would know (a) death panels that deny care to ailing children don’t exist; (b) the law offers strong protections that protect children with pre-existing conditions; and (c) he’d have much more to worry about when it came to penny-pinching private insurers turning down procedures they don’t want to pay for.

What’s more, the ACA includes prohibitions on lifetime caps precisely so that children like Bella — and her parents — don’t have to worry about being denied potentially life-saving treatments.

Indeed, in Santorum’s bizarre fantasy world, does he think families in Massachusetts — where the state has had an ACA-style system for several years — are routinely denying care to ailing children?

The health care reform law is in a position to save lives. Santorum’s worldview is so twisted, he can’t quite grasp the basics.

Or maybe he does understand and he’s just blatantly, shamelessly lying. Either way, this is pathetic.

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.