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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,” respectively.)


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 State Children's 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 non-sequitur 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.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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