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October 22, 2007
In SCHIP Debate,
Conservatives Attack 12-Year-Old Graeme Frost as ‘Fair Game’
In our increasingly vicious political culture, it’s no longer enough to
merely point out the shortcomings, inadequacies or peccadilloes of the
candidates themselves. It’s now necessary to do so for their family
members, staffers and even those advocating for certain issues who are
not public figures.
We’ve seen it of late with everyone from low-level staffers to
right-wing politicians (outed as gay by bloggers), to the wives of
several current presidential candidates (especially Judith Giuliani and
Jeri Thompson, called crazy and controlling and a “trophy wife,”
Mary Cheney, the vice president’s openly lesbian daughter, was mentioned
in 2004 debates by both John Kerry and John Edwards, who were pilloried
by right-wing pundits (as well as by Lynne Cheney), especially after
Kerry’s campaign manager said in the post-debate spin room that Mary’s
sexual orientation was “fair game.” Valerie Plame, who was outed as an
undercover CIA agent by members of the Bush Administration, has
reportedly even gone so far as to title her upcoming memoir “Fair Game.”
Mary Cheney, who has been openly gay for many years and even once worked
as a gay-lesbian community liaison for the Coors Corporation, was not
“outed” by Kerry, nor was she being singled out for homophobia. But
Cheney, Plame and the potential first ladies, at least, are adults.
Graeme Frost is not. He’s 12 years old, and he shows that if a
four-year-old who suffered a brain-stem injury in a car wreck can be
“fair game,” anyone can.
Frost is a seventh grader who lives in Baltimore with his family. He was
involved in an auto accident in 2004, during which he suffered a brain
stem injury and his sister, Gemma, suffered a cranial fracture. After
the two children were treated under the
Health Insurance Program,
the Democratic Party invited Graeme to give the party’s weekly response
to the president’s radio address, urging that President Bush not veto
the proposed $35 billion expansion to the program. (Bush did indeed veto
it, and Democrats in Congress failed to override the veto.)
Just days after the address, Republicans in the blogosphere, talk radio
and Congress had pounced. Columnist Michelle Malkin, using the
compassion and concern for others she brought to her 2004 book “In
Defense of Internment,” spread the story that the Frost family owns
their own home, that Frost’s father once owned a small business and
commercial real estate, and that the Frost children attend private
school. Why are they so deserving of a government program, the argument
went, when they’re not actually quite so “poor”?
This “swiftboating,” however, was quickly knocked down by the New
York Times’ Paul Krugman, the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne
and others. The Frosts attend school on scholarship, Mr. Frost’s
business is small and has no employees and, besides, the SCHIP program
is meant to help those who are not poor enough to take advantage of
Medicaid or other programs, but yet still find themselves unable to pay
for catastrophic medical costs. Dionne rightly pointed out that the
Frosts did everything the Republicans say people should do – owning a
home, starting a business, caring for their children – and their reward
was to be slimed by political opponents.
Once the facts got out, most of the bloggers and talk show hosts refused
to apologize, and conservative pundit Mark Steyn, in a
of non-sequiturs, went so far as to argue that “If a
political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man's job,
then the boy is fair game." Once again, the “fair game.”
Unsurprisingly, the attack was later traced to an aide to Senate
Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. It was never quite believable that
such a thing had originated with grass-roots bloggers. After all, who
besides those on the Hill actually pay attention to the Democrats’
weekly radio address?
It can be tiresome, indeed, for politicians to trot out children in
order to make a political point. But the Frost family did serve as a
powerful reminder that the S-CHIP legislation was needed, and the
program was helping people. But in this case, the Frosts really were a
family helped by this necessary and important government program. Shame
on those who attacked them merely for speaking out about the trauma done
to their family.
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