The War Against Graeme Frost: Get That School Kid


The war is continuing.

It is a brutal war. It’s now in a “take no prisoners” stage. It involves sending more troops out to the scene. It’s taking up lots of time as people find new ways to denounce the enemy. It will not end until the enemy is defeated and cannot raise his head to be a problem again.

No, that isn’t a report about the latest Iraq strategy, it’s a summary of the apparent war now raging against Graeme Frost, a 12 year old boy who the Democrats arranged to deliver a counter radio address to President George Bush, on the children’s health care issue.

Bush has been seemingly marginalized in opinion polls showing 70 percent of the American public support the BIPARTISAN SCHIP child’s health care plan he vetoed. But as long as the President has a veto, he can never really be marginalized, especially when he has a hard-core group of loyalists who would say a cabbage is a diamond ring if Bush said it was so.

These loyalists do NOT represent all members of the Republican Party, as polls increasingly show. There are some Republicans upset over this administration’s policies and its slash-and-burn political style. But the loyalists give Mr. Bush the ability to be a President who in essence has become The Faction President.

So what did the Democrats do?

They picked a kid to deliver the counter address. We wrote THIS POST that noted how effective it would be and the kind of media coverage it would get — putting a human face on a problem that Mr. Bush and his most loyal followers are trying to frame as a matter of ideology (we don’t want people turning to government insurance) or numbers debates. Or just a partisan ploy. Except it’s hard to explain Orrin Hatch — or did he recently switch parties — supporting it.

No matter. When I wrote that post I had a snarky paragraph in it — which I cut out.

The cut-out paragraph noted that now that this kid has come forward in 21st century America he was certain to be demonized — with every facet of his family history investigated, talk show hosts latching onto the slightest thing possible to discredit him, his parents’ parking tickets revealed, his trips to the office for talking in class revealed, and quotes appearing that he pulled the hair of the girl in front of him in class. Video cameras could secretly record him walking home from school, catching him as he jaywalked. Perhaps one of his parents had a DUI years ago — it would come out and be PROOF that what he said on radio had no merit.

But I felt it was too cheap a shot, too snarky, too uncharitable to the way politics works these days — and too unbelievable and it would spark the inevitable “how can you call yourself a moderate or a centrist” emails and comments that people make who apparently don’t read polls which show that moderates, centrists and independents do indeed reach strong conclusions — and vote for one party or another. So I sighed and I cut it.

But now I see it isn’t far from the truth.

You have people setting aside seconds of their finite lives to trying to discredit this kid. They deny that’s what it’s going on — but that IS WHAT IT IS and everyone knows full well that’s what it is.

Why? Because he made some points ABOUT POLICY. And rather than talk about the points, they are trying to discredit him and his family because that would (they feel) erase the points he made. It’s easier doing that then finding someone who can give counter arguments with facts and figures to negate Frost’s points.

One conservative writer now says it’s OK to go after kids — if his kid did something wrong he’d be slapped down.

Rather than link to that on this site, we’ll give you THIS LINK which also has a quote at the end that is quite fitting to the “level” of what now passes for political debate.

I would have included that quote here, but then I would have thought it was too snarky — but perhaps this time I would not have deleted it.

Uh, oh, Joe…here come the emails and posts saying you’re a liberal, a Democrat, you support Dennis Kucinich.

That is the way American politics now operates.

IGNORE the issue. IGNORE the debate on facts, figures, trends and what often-contradictory experts say.

Go after the people who dare to differ with you personally. If you can’t destroy then, then discredit them. Negatively label them in public, or send emails to others to try to get them to go after you.

But there ARE issues here. And the Los Angeles Times, in an editorial, notes how Mr. Bush’s veto not only makes no sense politically but as a matter of POLICY. Here are key portions:

Critics have called President Bush heartless for his veto last week of a compromise bill to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. True enough, but the president didn’t seem to be leading with his head either. In purporting to defend against a government takeover of the insurance industry, he blocked one of the best options for lifting families from wholly government-paid entitlements like Medicaid and into private insurance paid for in part by parents.

SCHIP isn’t welfare. In California, it is Healthy Families, the highly successful program that matches every state dollar with two from the federal government and entices parents to obtain and contribute to health coverage for their kids. Families that earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal (the California incarnation of Medicaid) but not enough to buy insurance on their own use Healthy Families to get their kids off to a good start in life and correct any problems that, left untreated, would turn into a larger taxpayer burden down the road. Those parents also get into the habit of making health insurance part of their budget, which is exactly what opponents of government-provided healthcare want.

There’s more but here is the ending:

That figure doesn’t cut it for California, where successful outreach has pulled thousands of new kids into the program and could target thousands more. At the level of funding Bush is willing to accept, those kids would be left without insurance — or in programs that increase the burden on taxpayers — nine months into next year. Every year after, coverage would lapse earlier and earlier. That would deepen California’s healthcare crisis even as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats attempt to cut a deal to expand coverage.

Congress will try to override the veto later this month. If a few more members get clued in to the wisdom of using government help to introduce families to private health insurance, they will do a world of good for thousands of children.

Those who support Bush and the group of win-one-for-our-team might perhaps focus their efforts countering arguments such as this. Then you’d have an actual back-and-forth debate over issues and come up with policy (which might be different from the existing bill).

But no, it’s easier to go after a 12 year-old. After all, these days, anyone who is in the way of an agenda has to be discredited so that no one listens to them anymore.

Yet, once upon a time, American society would pull out all stops not to go after a kid. The bar has been lowered yet again.

This time it has been lowered so far, it has struck oil amid the sleaze.

There was a more innocent time when kids raced to their TV sets, to turn channels to find their favorite such as Howdy Doody and Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney.

They’d sit at their sets — and kids would zealously go after the puppets and dummies.

We won’t add a snarky comment about how in early 21st century America, this has been seemingly and lamentably reversed.

To read other posts on the Internet on this issue representing other views GO HERE.


  1. “I’m saying that the condemnation should also include the use of human shields, the political practice of using vulnerable individuals as anecdotal symbols for a policy position, which has the intent of silencing opposition to the policy. Will others join me in condemning this practice?”

    Intent, especially in this instance, can only be deduced by telepathy or the desire to assume the worst of your opponents. It is in more general terms regarded as putting a face on the issue and really isn’t among the most evil things that any politician has done.

  2. “Personally I think it would be far more helpful (less punishing, to use your terminology) if we’d work toward making health insurance and health care more affordable, rather than pretending we can wave a magic wand and pay for more and more people to get coverage under the existing system.”

    And how do we lower the costs? What do we do in the meantime? I’ve never even heard of a solution that has this as a goal. Nor have I even heard a real study on why costs are ballooning so much, and if we don’t know that we certainly can’t begin to lower costs. As Tully pointed out, its a big lobby and no doubt that is responsible for some of the lack of studies on the topic.

  3. sheepdog is wrong in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to start but I will address only two items.

    First, he uses the “S” word which is so much in vogue today in certain conservative circles to describe any government social program. Go study what it really means.

    He says that the family has plenty invested in property. In reality it is called having owned your own home for a number of years in the real estate market bubble. Is he seriously suggesting that they should be forced to sell their home that they’ve lived in for years? Owning a house that you were lucky enough to buy cheap doesn’t determine the ability to pay medical bills or even afford insurance.

    Then comes the kicker. “the kid should be discredited.”. If it were by the truth, just barely this could be excusable. But the ones doing the discrediting aren’t being honest. Not at all. The tactics being used are nauseating and there is no excuse for them.

  4. Intent, especially in this instance, can only be deduced by telepathy or the desire to assume the worst of your opponents.

    Well, you’d have to correct that to acknowledge that I’m assuming the worst of my side as well as ‘my opponents’ side. I have a pretty strong skepticism over the motives of all politicians. And then after these types of ads or anecdotes are run, the response of the parties tends to bear out my suspicions because when someone raises any criticism or skepticism about the ‘vulnerable person’ they’re called heartless (or rabid, or any of the other adjectives that are applied).

    And for the record, I have not stated any disbelief over this particular family’s situation, or any opinion on whether or not his family should qualify for SCHIP- I’m only objecting to the use of this kind of tactic in general, and on both sides.

  5. The actual issue in Joe’s post that this is the comment section for wasn’t the SCHIP plan, in fact. It was about the low-life, scummy attack on the family of this boy. In fact this family is a perfect example for the people supporting the current version of the plan. With their income they do not qualify for Medicaid. They work. They are self-employed. They cannot afford decent insurance or massive medical care on what they make. For a government plan to insure children to include them is not going to crowd out any private insurance because the corporations have no interest in covering them in any meaningful way.

  6. “this is about incrementing us further towards socialism.”

    The best advertisement for socialism is run-amok capitalism. Things happen in reaction to other things. Either extreme will produce a swing to the other exteme.

    That’s a lesson that I hope the US would learn but seems determined not to.
    The wisdom of the Greeks promoting the balance of forces has been buried in rhetoric dominated by code wrords. Socialism is a stand in for evil. to some.
    History can point to terrible examples of socialistic systems, but it also provides terrrible examples of capitalism. Balance the lessons learned from both, and we might have a chance at a decent society.
    Insist on one extreme or the other, and we’ll just keep swinging back and forth without progress forward.

    Socialistic patches on capitalism’s holes is not the boogy man elsewhere like it is in the US. In many countries in Europe (Denmark, for example) people fund socialistic programs by forgoing austentaious signs of wealth. They live in smaller houses, but are more content living there. They don’t faint at the notion of national standards in health care. They recognize the value of the ‘average’ being kept high.
    It’s only in the US that personal liberty and capitalism are coupled with a disregard for how the whole of society functions.
    Too bad for us.

  7. Where is the party that claims to believe in personal responsibility in this debate? They are blaming the Democrats for putting this boy and his family in front of the public. But didn’t Michelle Malkin have to choose to stalk the family? Didn’t the bloggers and others who mis-represented the family’s financial situation make the choice to twist the facts? Nothing forced them to attack this family. It is not a legitimate response. Their choice, their responsibility. Not the Democrats. Not Graeme Frost’s. Not his family’s.

  8. It is not a legitimate response. Their choice, their responsibility. Not the Democrats. Not Graeme Frost’s. Not his family’s.

    I agree, Jim- and that’s exactly what I said when people here complained that the GOP was stifling debate by implying that liberals who oppose the war are aiding the enemy. I don’t have a problem with someone who complains about that but then goes on to actually argue the point- show why you don’t think that’s a valid argument. Same in this case- register the complaint that it’s bad form to put a kid up front in the debate, but move on to discuss the issue at hand.

    When you look at all the comment sections about SCHIP though, the conservatives are trying to discuss the details of the bill and I don’t see a whole lot of takers from those who support the bill, to say why this is the best way to handle the problem or to explain why are concerns shouldn’t be addressed.

    Concerns being: where do we draw the line, for states to define their own eligibility criteria? Is it fair for other states to pay because cost of living is higher in their states? Is it a good idea to use this particular program to help the middle class families, particularly before we’ve been able to reach all the truly poor kids? Is a regressive (and possibly self-limiting) tax on cigarettes a good way to fund this, and is it really going to provide the funds needed?

  9. CS-
    Re state funding.

    Your simple solution doesn’t work, because it cna’t be defined by a simple formula.

    Some residents are reasonbly permanent (homeowender and well-off renters), and they are the tax revenue base.
    Other residents are extremely mobile (the workers, and especially low wage workers) Who can keep track of where they live and where they work?

    Unless an entirely new idea is proposed, the COL point of reference is the only way I see to ease disparites in tax burdens and recipient threshhold alike.

  10. “Well, thanks for that short intermission with parade of strawmen, since no one here has claimed that the Dems use this tactic while GOP does not, no one has slandered the family, etc, etc.”

    OK, you have officially told me to not take you seriously, since this shows that you are not paying attention (and apparently haven’t been for many years). Right-wing pundits and bloggers are accusing this family of being tools (as if they can’t form their own opinions!), accusing them of lying about their earnings and property holdings (this one has been extensively poked and prodded), and so forth. You would say this isn’t slander? Or libel, as the case may be?

    Michelle Malkin is personally driving by their house and place of business, interrogating their neighbors and co-workers, and refusing to believe it when the Frosts’ co-workers declare the Frosts are “struggling”. She, her followers, and others are harassing the Frosts with frequent phone calls demanding info about the Frosts’ personal lives and finances. I guess, given your track record, you are also going to claim the Frosts aren’t being harassed?

    Nobody on the right claims the GOP doesn’t use the same tactic? Perhaps (she said wryly). But they certainly *do* ignore the fact, applying the very common IOKIYAR (It’s ok if you’re a Republican) double-standard to the actions of the GOP vs. the Democrats. They castigate the Democrats for this, but ignore how the GOP does it all the time. Just as they castigated Move-On for the “Betray Us” add while ignoring Rush’s “phony troops” monologue. Just as they…etc. etc. etc. Your strawman aside, the real issue here, as it usually is, is the GOP’s hypocracy.

  11. shade_tail: why don’t you take it up at the blogs where that is happening, instead of here? That was my point.

    And yeah, it’s always about the GOP hypocrisy, because the GOP is evil and the Dems are the good guys, and when Republicans complain that this formula is a bit one sided we’re being hypocrites for not applying equal standards to both sides (the equal standards that prove that one side is always wrong and the other always right). OK, I think I’ve got it now.

  12. Tully -
    I have alarming news: the end times are near.
    What else can it mean when I agree with so much of your last comment.?

    It is, all, indeed so much about capturing everyone into the system.

    For me, expanding SCHIP is just a stop gap measure until we can finally get our whole system of health insurance to function properly.
    To get that accomplished will take many political fights and the delays due to them. Stop gaps are needed for that reason, but should we, miraculously,
    solve the umbrella problem, they will wither away natuarally without a fight.

    I have to get a drink of water.
    I’m dizzy. I just complimented Tully.

  13. Sam:

    The most famous study, IIRC, of what is driving the increase in health care costs, was done by the Boston Consulting Group about 13 years ago. I don’t have a link though.

    For a good take on how to make health care more efficient *and* cost effective, I would recommended Renata Herzlinger and Michael Porter’s article in HBR in 2004.

    The comments about pre-existing conditions etc are all on point, as are the comments which attempt to distinguish between the cost of preventive, routine, and catastrophic health care.

    The real tragedy of the attack strategy of the right is that in fact the focus of the discussion will then be diverted from the actual policy issues, which are very challenging. Having said that, the Democrats *chose* to use this form of persuasion. It would be hard to believe that they were not aware of the potential consequences (I think the line in the movie “Heathers” was “Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?”), but I also have some sympathy in that they are not positing a fictitious representative person, but a real one.

    I enjoyed Joe’s take, and also John Cole’s.

  14. Don’t feel bad, doma. Once you get past the “team” talking points and the CPD™, the underlying reality is still the same. Neither party is going to try to actually solve it (it can’t be solved), just grapple for advantage to feed different parts/players of the health-care lobby and the electorate.

    And believe it or not, I’m a long-time advocate of single-payer universal basic health care, even though I know it will suck when it comes to getting more advanced procedures. I see no other way to actually address both the cost factors and the inequalities of American health care at the basic-care level. Even then you’re just flattening the growth curve of heath-care inflation (good by itself) and buying some admin efficiencies gains. But it’s also flattening out the gross income disparities in basic health care.

    As long as supply is limited and demand unlimited (as in “from now and until the heat-death of the universe”) you still have to ration, and the only REAL debate is how you ration. And no matter what, the rich will still get what they want, as long as they have the money.

    But I’ll happily give up boob jobs and liposuctions on the communal insurance tab for universal child immunizations and critical catastrophic care and such. Our only real gains in treatment at this point will come from major tech breakthroughs, not pouring more money into the same-old.

  15. Jim Satterfield: The actual issue in Joe’s post that this is the comment section for wasn’t the SCHIP plan, in fact. It was about the low-life, scummy attack on the family of this boy.

    I agree.

    Rush Limbaugh has joined in the pile-on of the Graehme family, who apparently can’t think for themselves. Limbaugh previously noted that Brian McGough is a wounded veteran who certainly can’t think for himself. Bill O’Reilly recently remarked that he’s pleased that more and more black people are starting to think for themselves.

    Right wingers either basically think the same way as these people, or claim that left-wing ideologues are just as bad. I suppose I have to agree that ideolgues are a nuisance at best and possibly more, but I think there’s something more going on with the Malkin/Limbaugh/O’Reilly axis.

    These people make a very good living fanning outrage and resentment. They’re not so much making an argument as defeating the entire enterprise of discourse. They don’t disrespect a highly decorated military officer speculated to have political ambitions. They go after ordinary people.

    I’m sure there are many self-identified conservatives and Republicans who “don’t approve” of that axis, but they are increasingly becoming the face of your party and your movement.

  16. Personally, I think it was rather tasteless for the Democrats to have a 12 year old give their radio address arguing in favor of the SCHIP plan. The implication was clear: if you don’t support SCHIP, then you don’t support children like Graeme.

    Imagine the outcry if Republicans had had a U.S. soldier give a radio address in favor of the war implying that if you don’t support the war, then you don’t support the troops.

    I hate the type of politics that says that if you don’t support a certain piece of legislation or government program, you must be a bad person.

    If you don’t support gun control, you must be insensitive to gun violence.

    If you don’t support the War on Drugs, you must not care whether children do drugs or not.

    If you don’t support Social Security, you must not care whether old people have enough money to buy their medicine.

    If you don’t support the Iraq War, you must sympathize with Saddam Hussein.

    I’ve heard it all before. What I never hear is an honest debate regarding whether the federal government should be doing these things in the first place.

  17. Tully is right about the current system being unable to fix anything. Let’s be honest. While there is motivation on the part of corporations that are in the health care and insurance businesses to cut costs there is absolutely no reason for them to pass those savings along to the public. Profits are their primary, if not only goal. Not helping people get healthy at the costs of their profit margin. Any theoretical savings that might be made by any free market “solutions” will simply be retained as profits and executive bonuses. Everyone else is still in the same boat as before. I have never seen any realistic answer to this conundrum from the conservative side of the political spectrum.

  18. Tully-
    “Our only real gains in treatment at this point will come from major tech breakthroughs, not pouring more money into the same-old.”

    I hope so.
    My worry is that new tecnology in treatment will nourish the sense I get that we are trying to ensure that no one ever dies. That presents a host of serious consequences in itself- philosophically as well as pracitcally and economically.
    Death is no longer accepted as a natural consequence of life.

    Just something I’ve been pondering. No conclsions to offer, as yet.

  19. These loyalists do NOT represent all members of the Republican Party, as polls increasingly show.

    Yeah but that’s the GOP base.

  20. Nick,

    It’s not that they don’t care for the children. They just care for ideology and the abstract ideal of virtually no government first and foremost. They care about their religious faith in the perfection of the free market system more than the concrete reality represented by those who “put a face” on the real world consequences of those ideals. The people who started the Iraq war had some strange vision of remolding a part of the world that has a tremendous resistance to change, especially coming from the outside.

    Heck, I don’t support the War on Drugs. It’s a waste. My objection is based not only on a “libertarian” view of individual rights but the hard cold fact that the “War on Drugs” is now, has been and always will be a failure. I don’t support the Iraq war not only because it’s been screwed up beyond belief but because the real war we needed to worry about at the time was still taking place in Afghanistan and we’ve seen where taking our eye off the ball there has gotten us. All objections based on the concrete and readily observable, not the blindly ideological.

  21. Joe – while

    You support Dennis Kucinich

    might be intended as a condemnation, I urge you and all your readers to take a look at the Lion of Cleveland with fresh eyes. He is the only elected official currently running for President who is not a member of the War Party. Wisconsin Senator Robert La Follette said, in 1917

    Every nation has its war party. It is not the party of democracy. It is the party of autocracy. It seeks to dominate absolutely. It is commercial, imperialistic, ruthless. It tolerates no opposition. It is just as arrogant, just as despotic, in London, or in Washington, as in Berlin. The American Jingo is twin to the German Junker. . . . If there is no sufficient reason for war, the war party will make war on one pretext, then invent another.

    In these dark days for the Republic, I am hopeful that many are beginning to see through the fog of words to the reality of the situation. Dennis IS a menace – to politics as usual. It is politics as usual which got us to where we are now.

  22. I cannot under any circumstances support Dennis Kucinich for President (and I’m a center-left Democrat).

  23. Nick=

    I cannot support the libertarian ‘no government interference’, position because, IMO, the cicil liberties that calims to promote lies on a false premise.

    Some people are too disenfranchized to worry about the finer points of civil liberties. They care more about having the liberty to just survive.

    If at the start of a runners’ race, one paicipant has broken legs, he’s not concerned about his liberty to choose to run in a particular lane.

    Capitalism or free markets don’t mean much if they’re not rounded out by social justice. jUstice isn’t there just for the taking, Fovernemtn has to proivde it.

  24. It’s not that they don’t care for the children. They just care for ideology and the abstract ideal of virtually no government first and foremost. They care about their religious faith in the perfection of the free market system more than the concrete reality represented by those who “put a face” on the real world consequences of those ideals.


    Your assertion that Republicans are somehow striving toward some “abstract ideal of virtually no government first and foremost” is not bourne out by reality. If your remark were true, then how is it that federal spending exploded under a Republican president and a Republican congress?

    I realize that your remark was meant as a criticism of Republicans, but I actually think that your remarks give them too much credit. Your argument is based upon the premise that Republicans actually have a consistent position in favor of smaller government and free market economics.

    Expanding the power of the Executive Branch is hardly consistent with smaller government. Supporting a wireless surveillance program that bypasses the need to get a warrant isn’t consistent with smaller government. Waging a half trillion dollar war against a country that didn’t attack us isn’t consistent with smaller government. Supporting the War on Drugs is not consistent with smaller goverment (or with free market economics, for that matter).

    This “Republicans want to gut the size of government” versus “Democrats want to expand the size of government” mentality is a myth. Both Republicans and Democrats want to expand the power of goverment–they just do so in different areas.

  25. Nick,

    Actually I was referring to libertarians and the more libertarian branch of the Republican party, not the ones who run things now.

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