Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Does 'Stark Moralizing Language Work'? Is Joe Lieberman A Mass Murderer?

Senator Joe Lieberman is drawing an extraordinary amount of well deserved flak from the liberal punditocracy for his flip-flop on an important element of health-care reform and his threat to filibuster the whole 'arama if his ring is not kissed.
The so-called Independent from Connecticut has been provoking fits of agita since he bolted the Democratic fold, but one reaction in particular is worth noting -- as well as discussing -- this time around because it comes from Ezra Klein, a Washington Post blogger with a deep knowledge of health-care reform, a reputation for fact checking and a usually mild manner.
Until Lieberman sent him over the top.
Klein writes that in holding the Senate health-care reform bill hostage, Lieberman is willing to "cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people" for no better reason than to settle some old political scores.
Strong words, no?
So strong that WaPo editor Charles Lane decries Klein's post as "venomous" and "beyond the pale," writing that Klein is "essentially accusing Lieberman of mass murder." (Klein's response here.)
So let's unpack Klein's claim and see if it stands up to scrutiny:

He cites an Institute of Medicine study that concludes a lack of health insurance causes about 20,000 excess deaths in the U.S per year. So it stands to reason that blocking health-care reform would cause a lot of people to die who might not otherwise. And in exercising that power, Lieberman is choosing to kill people.
To put a finer point on it, as does blogger Paul Campos, about half of those deaths fall in the 55-64 age range, which is precisely the group that would benefit from allowing them to buy into the Medicare program at below private market rates. This is the very provision that Lieberman now suddenly opposes and threatens to throw down the filibuster gauntlet over.

Under other circumstances, I would have preferred that Klein used less inflammatory language, but not here, and blogger Matt Yglesias agrees that Klein's "strong moralizing language" is warranted.

Just as I have argued that using Nazi analogies is appropriate in the context of the Bush Torture Regime, asserting that Lieberman will have the blood of Americans on his hands if he doesn't back down is appropriate for the time, place and occasion. To think that one man with a massive ego, in this case a man from a state that is home to many of the largest health insurers, can hold uninsured Americans hostage borders on the criminal.

That's the reality, and there is nothing Lieberman can do to get out from under it. Except to flip-flop again. Because stark moralizing language may just work in this instance.

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