A few days ago, I wrote a post calling for my Fayetteville readers to call their member of Congress asking them to reverse their initial votes on SCHIP and overturn President Bush’s veto of what I consider a valuable piece of legislation (both of Fayetteville’s Democratic reps were among a small number who voted against it). But an important aspect of this story I haven’t addressed is the smearing of Graeme Frost, the 12-year old boy who gave the Democratic response to a September radio address given by Bush. Graeme and his family are beneficiaries of SCHIP, their combined wages too low to afford the expensive health care premiums needed to cover a family with four children. Add to that Graeme and his sister’s injuries in a car accident and insurance costs would have been utterly prohibitive. In short, the Frosts are precisely the kind of family that SCHIP was designed to help.
Of course, that hasn’t prevented the right-wing smear machine from going full-tilt in attacking the Frost family, even to the point of staking out the Frost home and calling them constantly on the telephone. I mention these right-wing attacks not because I think the Frosts should be completely out of bounds when it comes to the debate over SCHIP. By placing themselves in the public eye on this issue, they have established themselves as participants in a wider debate about health care. However, I am disturbed by what amounts to harassment of the family and by the way in which the right-wing blogs have succeeded in spreading vast amounts of misinformation about the Frost family’s ability to afford health care (see both Krugman and Dionne on these points). And I think that’s what troubles me the most about the “debate” over SCHIP is that conservative critics, unable to challenge the merits of health coverage for children, have resorted to name calling and other rhetorical fallacies in order to attack a popular program. And the baseless attacks on SCHIP illustrate the worst elements, in my opinion, of the echo chamber mentality of the blogosphere (there is also some evidence here that a staffer for Mitch McConnell may have helped orchestrate these attacks).
But these attacks clearly do little more than focus on a single family with vague innuendo that does little to suggest that the Frosts don’t qualify for SCHIP. The larger questions about whether or not SCHIP should exist or whether or not working- and middle-class families are able to afford adequate health care are left unanswered. Here, I’m generally in agreement with Krugman, and I’m not sure I can say it any better, so I’ll give him the final word:
I don’t know about you, but I think American children who need medical care should get it, period. Even if you think adults have made bad choices — a baseless smear in the case of the Frosts, but put that on one side — only a truly vicious political movement would respond by punishing their injured children.