LEVERAGE AND ‘SOCIOPATHIC INDIFFERENCE’…. It seems as if we keep getting stuck in the same leverage loop on health care reform — a handful of center-right Democrats and Republicans will kill health care reform if it includes a public option or Medicare expansion; progressive Democrats will kill health care reform if it doesn’t include a public option or Medicare expansion.

To save this necessary legislation, the left is supposed to give in. Again. And why is it incumbent on liberals to concede? It’s not because they’re weak; it’s because they care.

Can’t liberals be just as stiff-necked as Lieberman? Sure, they could. But liberals members do have an incentive to compromise — the tens of thousands of people who die every year for lack of health insurance. The leverage that Lieberman and other “centrists” have obtained on this issue (and on climate change) stems from a demonstrated willingness to embrace sociopathic indifference to the human cost of their actions.

It’s the leverage trump-card dynamic that’s been apparent throughout the debate — the left doesn’t want reform to fail; the right doesn’t care. The left knows that if reform falls apart, thousands will die and millions will struggle. The right knows the same thing, but is indifferent to preventing such a scenario.

For the left, failure is not an option, because the human, political, economic, and fiscal consequences are too severe. For the right, failure is entirely acceptable, if not preferable. Both sides know what the other side is thinking.

The result is less of a negotiation and more of a hostage standoff, with Joe Lieberman playing the role of the proverbial gunman who isn’t bluffing. If progressive Dems refuse to pay the ransom, Lieberman pulls the trigger and we get to spend the next decade arguing over who’s to blame for what happened, while the systemic problems get worse, the human suffering expands, and the status quo bankrupts businesses, states, and the federal government.

There was a thought, early on in the process, that Lieberman was blowing a lot of smoke, but when push came to shove, he didn’t want to be known forever as the man who killed health care reform. That thought was wrong.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.