10/03/2013 09:52 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Silent Violence of the Republican Shutdown

The Republican shutdown of the federal government has many high-profile, sympathetic, and symbolic victims -- the panda cam at the National Zoo, visitors to the national parks, aging World War II veterans deprived of the opportunity to visit the monument erected to honor their valor.

But the Republican shutdown is a far greater offense against decency than any of this. At bottom, it is an on-going act of silent violence against the most vulnerable members of the American people. Let us begin with the victims of childhood cancer. You have seen the pictures, the brave, bald-headed girls and boys who must cope with chemotherapy at an age where their playmates are chasing butterflies or playing ball.

The National Institutes of Health has a children's cancer program. It boasts a world-class research facility, meaning that children have access to the latest forms of treatment. Children go there precisely because they do not have access to these services elsewhere. Thanks to the Republican shutdown, NIH has had to discontinue or delay several clinical trials. In other words, there are children who may die because a group of self-indulgent, so-called patriots have seen fit to hijack Congress on a fool's errand.

Now, what about other medical services the federal government provides? We are entering fall and winter -- the seasons that typically see a spike in upper respiratory illnesses. And some of these illnesses are a great deal more serious than a runny nose or a few days' congestion.

Consider one of the leading potential threats that medical science has identified and is attempting to monitor: This is Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). This is an illness that was first detected on the Arabian Peninsula about a year ago and it has a remarkable lethality. It is spread by a corona virus and causes "severe, acute respiratory illness." Those who contract MERS suffer extreme fever and cough and about one-half die. Yes, 50 percent.

So far, this outbreak seems confined to the Middle East and it does not appear to spread easily. But since it is so new, we really don't know much about its epidemiology. And now, thanks to those flag-waving professional Obama-haters on America's right wing, we might not learn much about it. Why? Because "surveillance for emerging infectious diseases such as MERS" has been "weakened" thanks to the furlough of the government workers who track it.

And, by the way, we have also furloughed the staffs that monitor seasonal flu outbreaks and those who monitor and warn about the periodic disease outbreaks that cross state lines, such as hepatitis and salmonella. Better be careful about those green, leafy vegetables.

What about workplace hazards? Thanks to that war-whooping pack of close-the-government fanatics, America's workplace safety regime has also been greatly compromised. Administrators at OSHA and other worker-safety agencies have been forced to perform a grotesque form of triage. They have suspended routine inspections and other services, except where there is "imminent danger."

Why did the fanatics do this? Why this crazed revolt against government by men and women who supposedly took a solemn oath to discharge the duties of governance? It seems at least some of them did it for the hell of it. One sputtering Georgia Congressman, Lynn Westmoreland, promised back in 2010, during his election campaign, that he would shut the government if he ever came to Congress. Why? He never offered a reasoned explanation. It just seemed like the thing to do.

But to the extent that Republican hijackers have a coherent message, it is this: Kill Obamacare and we will drop the gun we have pointed at the nation's head. Senator Angus King, the plain spoken Independent from the State of Maine, has perhaps the best response to this fit of irresponsibility.

It is "murder," Senator King gruffly observed. Every day, he noted, men and women in this country die for want of health insurance. The senator reflected on an acquaintance of his, a woman named Connie Gould, who died of untreated asthma because she lacked the insurance to obtain needed treatment.

Senator King denounced the congressional hostage-takers for their willful attempt to kill health insurance for the millions of Americans just like Connie Gould. Speaking of the GOP fanatics, he declared: "For people who do that to other people in the name of some obscure political ideology is one of the grossest violations of our humanity I can think of."

God bless Senator King.

If the Speaker of the House fails to take swift and sure action to bring to heel the radicals who have seized his party and are attempting to bring this country down, his name will live in infamy. Mr. Boehner, your supine abdication of leadership, your gimmicky attempts at shifting responsibility, are a moral outrage and a disgrace.

Andrew Sullivan is certainly right to see this act of misrule as an attack on America's constitutional order. Professor Geoffrey stone is surely correct to see it as an an assault on democracy and the rule of law. It is all of that.

But beyond these obvious facts, the takeover of a branch of government by a pack of anti-nomian radicals is a continuing act of silent violence that is claiming lives and that will claim lives. Cancer treatments are being halted. We have ceased the monitoring of disease outbreaks. Our nation's health security is being put at risk. And, in the end, innocent women and men like Connie Gould, whose only crime is the inability to obtain health insurance, will suffer and die.