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Today From The Pain Caucus


Robert Samuelson gives away the show:

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.


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…We are a rich, decent society, or so we say. Extending health-care coverage to those who can’t afford it would be worth it even in the absence of cost controls. Health-care insurance is not candy, and it is not an indulgence.

One part of Ygelsias’s attempt to rank the very worst of the pathetic hacks who dominate Fred Hiatt’s crayon scribble page I agree with is that Samuelson is among the very worst. His substantive views are quite appalling, and are ladled out with a varnish of would-be sensible centrism that makes them even more unpalatable. As Chait notes, the alleged fiscal hawk who supported both rounds of Bush’s massive upper-class tax cuts (which, in a neat bit of bootstrapping, produced deficits that make subsidizing health coverage for poor people seem “unaffordable,” and by the way where’s the robust economy those tax cuts were supposed to produce?) isn’t even consistent about his silly Concord Coalition onanism. And he’s as lazy as Richard Cohen himself — he’s basically been recycling the same three columns for decades. In fact, I think he belongs above Will…

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  • BC

    Bad analogy, doesn’t take into account what Obama claims. Obama’s claim: the head of a highly indebted family has found that by paying more than the minimum on his credit card bill, the family can get rid of the debt sooner and at a lower cost. There is no “trip to Disneyland” nonsense in this health care bill at all. The trip to Disneyland was taken when Bush (and presidents before him) decided to put dollars in that missile defense system that is yet to be proven to work.

  • DrDick

    There is no “almost” about it. The modern conservative is at heart minimally pathological and at worst a full blown sociopath.

  • Bart

    Those Bush tax cuts were doubly self-indulgent in that they went mostly to wealthy Republicans who recycled some of that money back to the Bush campaign and associated fellow travelers.

  • Hogan

    Time to revisit Holbo on Frum? I think it is!

    “The thing that makes capitalism good, apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundaton is hereby laid for a desirable social order.

    “Let’s call this position (what would be an evocative name?) ‘dark satanic millian liberalism’
    . . . “

    • djw

      I’m never, ever disappointed when I revisit that post. It’s remarkable how well it holds up.

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  • The more insidious problem with Samuelson is that he has a regular column in Newsweek, too. Its circulation, while falling, is far greater than that of the WaPo and reaches far more people. Thus more people are exposed to his prevarications.

  • How do Chait and Ezra feel about “Entitlements”?

  • Anonymous

    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.

    Didn’t some rightblogger do just this? The guy who wrote that “pussification” essay? Chap with the gout?

  • Halloween Jack

    I yoostabee a Democratfree-spendin’ kinda guy, but after 9/11the mulatto’s election I’ve become concerned about Chappaquiddickthe deficit.

  • It’s a fine analogy. It’s like a highly indebted family that takes a cruise because they claim to have found a way to pay for it – for example, they got a job on the ship, which pays more than the fare. Since they didn’t have a job on land, they give up their apt. and go to sea. It’s a nice trip and they come back with a little money saved.

    Sure, their neighbors are scornful. This indebted family should suffer, not have a pleasant job. You just can’t please some people.

  • David M. Nieporent

    Of course it’s self-indulgent. You’re buying your clear consciences with other people’s money.

    • DocAmazing

      As opposed to what you should be doing, which is bailing out investors with other people’s money.

  • Sam DC
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