Are Progressives Just Whiners? Saving Lives Is What Matters

All I want for Christmas is a health care bill from the Senate. Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled the final vote on Christmas Eve, and a win seems certain due to Ben Nelson's new deal for more Medicaid funds in Nebraska. That is, unless Joe Lieberman -- the senator from Hartford (Insurance Co.) -- plays Grinch again. Or Mr. Potter.

So why aren't we progressives happier? The bottom line, folks, is that whatever bill Congress enacts will save the lives of thousands more working Americans. Since when have progressives been opposed to that?

A recent study at the Harvard Medical School, published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, found that working-age Americans (17-64) without insurance die at a 40 percent higher rate than those with insurance. The higher mortality rate applies even after adjusting for race, gender, and other demographic factors. That means an insured African American male has a lower death rate than an uninsured white male. These percentages translate into almost 45,000 deaths each year -- one every 12 minutes. Now that's a death tax!

Dr. David Himmelstein, one of the study's co-authors, pointed out that more Americans die because of lack of insurance "than drunk driving and homicide combined." Each and every year.

Try to wrap your brain around the cost of these lost lives. The cost in lost productivity and taxes to the economy of our nation. The cost in lost love to family and friends. A conservative estimate in dollars, for legal purposes, could easily be $1 million per life lost. Multiply that by 45,000 and you get $45 billion. Every year.

But that cost isn't being measured in the current health care debate. Maybe if we had a "die in" around the U.S. Capitol, people would get the point.

The reason progressives aren't being taken seriously in Washington politics is because we're coming across as a bunch of whiners. We're like, waaaaaah!, lobbyists won't play fair, we're going to take our votes and go home. Since when has life been fair for most of the Americans we claim to represent?

Case in point: MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan. He's made a practice of inviting Washington officials onto his show just to have a temper tantrum because they don't say what he wants them to. (Often replayed to the amusement of HuffPost readers.) That's no way to influence the debate, and it's a crying shame because often he's right on many of the issues.

Most recently Ratigan bullied and berated Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor, when she tried to bring up the improvements for women's health in the current legislation. Apparently that's not relevant -- only reducing profits for insurance companies matters. I'm a card-carrying populist myself, but I'll make a deal when it comes to saving lives.

(Full disclosure: Ratigan smacked me down the last time I was on his show, for arguing that the cost of lives saved under the Senate bill was greater than the $100 million in Medicaid funds that Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu got for her cloture vote.)

Politics, like life, is not an all-or-nothing game, and if progressives can't learn how to deal for what we want, we are going to continue to lose -- or worse, be ignored. Robert Kuttner, the economist I most admire, has that bottom-line sense of reality that distinguishes him from the ivory tower theorists. He told Bill Moyers that, in the end, he would vote for the health care bill because something was better than nothing.

But Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone disagreed, saying it was better to wait eight or nine years and get a better bill. My jaw dropped -- wait for how many more years and how many more dead Americans? Say 300,000 or 400,000? Such callous disregard for the real lives of everyday people is what earned us the moniker of limousine liberals.

We have a real chance with this bill to stop the tide of death that is the actual cost of our medical industrial complex. So man up, progressives, and put your game face on. It's time to push this bill across the goal line.