Define ‘self-indulgent’

DEFINE ‘SELF-INDULGENT’…. Now I remember why I stopped reading Robert Samuelson’s columns.

In his latest piece, the conservative columnist argues that the money the Obama administration and congressional Democrats intend to use to pay for health care should actually be used to reduce the deficits left by Bush/Cheney, rather than extending health care coverage to 32 million Americans. As Samuelson sees it, President Obama prioritizing the needs of those 32 million people is “self- centered” and his policy initiative “self-indulgent.”

Got that? If the president thinks of the needs of those who are struggling, he’s necessarily thinking of himself. This is how Robert Samuelson perceives recent events.

Jon Chait is unimpressed with the argument.

“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.

Ezra added, “And before you think this is all about Samuelson, consider that Charles Krauthammer calls coverage ‘candy.’ There’s an absence of empathy here that borders on a clinical disorder.”

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Steve Benen

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.