NYT: In SCHIP Controversy, Conservative Bloggers 'Attacking a Family With Injured Children'
David Herszenhorn's front-page "Political Memo" for Wednesday's New York Times was devoted to the fight over Graeme Frost, the boy pushed forward by the Democrats to deliver the response to Bush's weekly radio address on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP).
The inimitable Mark Steyn is one of several conservative writers unhappy with Democrats "desperate enough to send a boy to do a man's job."
Herszenhorn accused Republicans and "conservative bloggers" of attacking the boy and his family. While not as bad as the local coverage in the Baltimore Sun as outlined earlier by Ken Shepherd, there is a hostile tone:
"There have been moments when the fight between Congressional Democrats and President Bush over the State Children's Health Insurance Program seemed to devolve into a shouting match about who loves children more.
"So when Democrats enlisted 12-year-old Graeme Frost, who along with a younger sister relied on the program for treatment of severe brain injuries suffered in a car crash, to give the response to Mr. Bush's weekly radio address on Sept. 29, Republican opponents quickly accused them of exploiting the boy to score political points.
"Then, they wasted little time in going after him to score their own.
"In recent days, Graeme and his family have been attacked by conservative bloggers and other critics of the Democrats' plan to expand the insurance program, known as S-chip. They scrutinized the family's income and assets -- even alleged the counters in their kitchen to be granite -- and declared that the Frosts did not seem needy enough for government benefits.
"But what on the surface appears to be yet another partisan feud, all the nastier because a child is at the center of it, actually cuts to the most substantive debate around S-chip. Democrats say it is crucially needed to help the working poor – Medicaid already helps the impoverished -- but many Republicans say it now helps too many people with the means to help themselves.
"The feud also illustrates what can happen when politicians showcase real people to make a point, a popular but often perilous technique. And in this case, the discourse has been anything but polite."
"Republicans on Capitol Hill, who were gearing up to use Graeme as evidence that Democrats have overexpanded the health program to include families wealthy enough to afford private insurance, have backed off, glad to let bloggers take the heat for attacking a family with injured children.
"An aide to Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, expressed relief that his office had not issued a press release criticizing the Frosts."
To his credit, Herszenhorn got an undiluted opinion from one of the main Internet drivers of the issue.
"But Michelle Malkin, one of the bloggers who have strongly criticized the Frosts, insisted Republicans should hold their ground and not pull punches.
"'The bottom line here is that this family has considerable assets,' Ms. Malkin wrote in an e-mail message. 'Maryland's S-chip program does not means-test. The refusal to do assets tests on federal health insurance programs is why federal entitlements are exploding and government keeps expanding. If Republicans don't have the guts to hold the line, they deserve to lose their seats.'
"As for accusations that bloggers were unfairly attacking a 12-year-old, Ms. Malkin wrote on her blog, 'If you don't want questions, don't foist these children onto the public stage.'"
Malkin had more in her New York Post column Wednesday:
"What is verifiable: The Frosts own a home in Baltimore purchased for $55,000 16 years ago -- and now worth an estimated $300,000. That's a lot of equity. In addition, the children's father, Halsey Frost, owns commercial real estate and his own small business, but chose not to buy health insurance for himself and his wife, whom he hired as an employee. She now apparently works freelance at a medical-publishing firm, which also reportedly doesn't offer insurance."