In last week’s debate for Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich argued that Sarah Palin “got attacked unfairly for describing what, in fact, be death panels” in the federal health care system. He wasn’t kidding.

In fact, Gingrich tried to bolster his point by insisting that “the most recent U.S. government intervention on whether or not to have prostate testing is basically going to kill people. So if you ask me, do I want some Washington bureaucrat to create a class-action decision which affects every American’s last two years of life, not ever.”

The disgraced former House Speaker was talking about the findings of the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, which produced a report saying it’s unwise to give routine testing of prostate cancer to older men. Jonathan Cohn had a terrific item explaining in detail why Gingrich’s claims are simply wrong.

Nobody wants to interfere with that personal discretion. Even when the Affordable Care Act is fully in place, nobody is going to stop physicians from giving the test. Nobody is going to stop patients from getting the test. Nobody is going to stop insurers from paying for the test.

The only question here is whether the federal government will make prostate cancer screening part of the standard benefits package — that is, one of the services that all insurers must cover, no matter what. And while Gingrich may shudder at the thought of government making these decisions, keep in mind that the alternative is letting insurers make those decisions on their own — with no transparency, no guarantee of scientific input, and no accountability to democratically elected officials. […]

Gingrich was doing what conservatives have been doing throughout the health care debate: Scaring people about something that will never come to pass. And that’s doubly tragic. Not only is he undermining a law that will ultimately save lives. He’s also making it more difficult to have a sane, responsible discussion of an issue that desperately needs one.

As it turns out, these aren’t the only problems. Alec MacGillis reports overnight on Gingrich’s “deep, personal hypocrisy” on this issue. Alec’s piece is well worth reading — it not only points to shameless ideological opportunism from Gingrich, it also suggests the disgraced former Speaker is an awful, unprincipled person.

Republicans and much of the political establishment like to celebrate this pseudo-intellectual as some kind of visionary. The problem arises when one looks just below the surface to see how cravenly dishonest Gingrich really is.

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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.