Last night, Keith Obermann devoted his entire show to a special comment on healthcare. Among other things, he hammered the point that none of us, supporters or opponents, are really talking about what healthcare is—preventing death.

His assessment is correct. The debate generally seems to be between people who fear the tyranny of big government and people who fear the tyranny of big corporations. In the power of the health insurance companies I see an ominous return of old timey trusts that wielded an enormous influence over the daily lives of average Americans and in so doing made profits that (adjusted for inflation) have never been matched. Opponents of healthcare reform don’t appear to have a problem with this but the debate would apparently have to take a much different shape if Hitler had been CEO of Nazi Co.

But those are questions of the scope of government and not of healthcare. So too are other questions such as how to pay for it or whether we should risk trading convenience for equality of care. The real question, as Obermann points out, is whether we as Americans are content to let other Americans die because they can’t afford insurance or because their insurance won’t cover their treatment. People who lose sight of what is really at stake always end up on the wrong side of history. Articles from a hundred years ago about minorities or imperial expansion, even from supposedly liberal sources are often horrifying because they focus on the politics or the economics of the situation and neglect the costs of real people’s suffering. The exceptions, which usually comprise The Nation, more often put real people first. We should follow that example.

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