A lot of the people taking umbrage at the fact that a threat to filibuster a universal health care bill amounts to a threat to endanger the lives of tens of thousands of people insist on couching their umbrage in terms of the idea that liberals called Joe Lieberman a “murderer” or perhaps a “mass murderer.” But as far as I know, nobody said that. “Murder” is a word with a certain meaning, and certain implications, and I don’t think it would be appropriate to apply it to a legislative debate of this sort.
That said, I think it’s absolutely vital to point out that lives are at stake in important policy debates. A bill that will provide health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans will save lives. If its opponents succeed, those lives will not be saved. That’s one of the reasons the debate is important. There’s a tendency among both cynical Beltway journalists and battle-hardened political activists to look at these things in terms of who wins and who loses in the political fight. But the political fights are actually about things. They’re about who gets access to a decent standard of health care. They’re about whose homes will be destroyed by floods. They’re about which workers will lose their jobs because their employer needs to lay people off in the wake of a financial bubble they had nothing to do with.
The effort to transform politics into a bloodless, technical dispute or a kind of amusing masquerade are both efforts to obscure the stakes from people and ensure that elites and insiders don’t have their interests challenged.