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Robert Samuelson's Indulgence

There's a certain species of center-right fiscal hawk who views covering the uninsured as a luxury but not a necessity. As I've written before, they have a tendency to express this view through metaphor rather than direct argument, probably because it's hard to make this case explicitly without sounding like a moral monster. Robert Samuelson offers another good example of this tendency in his column today:

If the administration has $1 trillion or so of spending cuts and tax increases over a decade, all these monies should first cover existing deficits -- not finance new spending. Obama's behavior resembles a highly indebted family's taking an expensive round-the-world trip because it claims to have found ways to pay for it. It's self-indulgent and reckless.

"Self-indulgent" -- what an interesting phrase. Let's consider both words, starting with the end. It contains the assumption that some basic health insurance is an "indulgence," rather than a necessity. I defy anybody to make a careful study of the actual conditions of people who lack health insurance -- such as can be found in Jonathan Cohn's book "Sick" -- and come to this conclusion.

Next, there's the word "self." Self-indulgent is when you spend money to indulge yourself. The Bush tax cuts, which massively enriched George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, could be described as self-indulgent. Samuelson supported those, incidentally. President Obama and the Democrats who enacted health care reform all have insurance. Even if you consider providing basic medical care to people who lack it an "indulgence," they are not indulging themselves. They are "indulging" others.

Samuelson calls Obama and the Democrats "shortsighted and self-centered -- though their quest was for political glory, not financial gain." Not only does he disagree with the goal of covering the uninsured, he literally cannot imagine that it might be spring from an altruistic motive. It must be "political glory" they seek. And surely the easiest path to this glory is to shift resources from rich or politically-powerful groups to a politically demobilized sector of the electorate.