Justin, a Friend of the Blog, isn’t terribly happy with the language Rep. Grayson (infamously?) used to describe the Republican health care alternative:
There is no sense in which the Republicans want people to die. Nothing even approximately close. Republicans have their reasons for disagreeing with health care reform, many of which I think are bad (slavish devotion to an ideal of the free market, distorted ideas of what will happen). Many legislators have worse reasons (pandering, insurance industry donations). But the idea that they want people to die explains nothing. It’s not hyperbole, it’s pure rhetoric, and it doesn’t appeal to any rational consideration, but pure fear.
As a purely substantive matter, I kind of disagree. Republicans know – or have some idea – that upwards of forty-five thousand Americans die annually because they lack health insurance. And Republicans know – or at least have some inkling – that thousands more Americans die because their insurers refused to cover a treatment or a procedure or even a medication. Republicans might not want people to die, but they are fighting very hard to maintain a system that needlessly claims lives and livelihoods as a matter of course. So, at the very least, Republicans seem to have a complete and total disregard for the human cost of our health care “system.” Which, honestly, isn’t much better than wanting people to die.
That said, Justin is right to say that Rep. Grayson’s bit of hyperbole was a direct appeal to fear. But it wasn’t solely an appeal to fear; no, it was also an attempt to inject some needed moral urgency into this debate. Since I’m, one of the most powerful verses in “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (which is a pretty powerful song altogether) is towards the end, where Melle Mel details the bleak life of a young stick-up kid. Melle Mel tells us that in prison, the kid is “used and abused and served like hell,” and I bring that up because it is also pretty much how our health care system treats millions of Americans. For those not fortunate enough to have good employer-provided health care – and even for those that do – our system regularly under-serves, bankrupts and kills. Everyone knows this. And the fact that we don’t actively talk about it is completely ridiculous.
Yesterday, Matt Yglesias correctly pointed out that – by the conventions of American politics – liberals simply aren’t permitted to bring any notion of morality or justice to bear on our opposition. To be taken “seriously” at all requires us to sheath our swords and turn to the bloodless language of bureaucracy. Which is all good and well, except that we become so bogged down in bureaucratese that we forget acknowledge that there are real lives at stake. Yes, Rep. Grayson shouldn’t have called the status quo a “holocaust,” but if his hyperbole can create the space for liberals to make a moral argument, and freely point out the human costs of Republican obstinacy, then I’m inclined to defend his speech as a good and necessary corrective to the monstrous abstraction which has consumed this debate.