By E.J. Dionne, Jr.
WASHINGTON—Conservatives claim to be in favor of stable families, small businesses, hard work, private schools, investment and homeownership. So why in the world are so many on the right attacking the family of Graeme Frost?
Graeme is the 12-year-old from Baltimore who delivered the Democrats’ reply to a radio address by President Bush in September. The seventh-grader pleaded—in vain, it turned out—that the president not veto Congress’ $35-billion expansion of the children’s health care program known as SCHIP. A car crash in December 2004 left two of Halsey and Bonnie Frost’s children comatose, Graeme with a brain stem injury and Gemma, his sister, with a cranial fracture.
The kids were treated, thanks to SCHIP. The Frosts spoke out so the public would know that real people lie behind the acronym.
Their reward was to be trashed on right-wing blogs and talk radio as if they were multimillionaires ripping off the system. The assault on the Frosts apparently began on the Free Republic Web site and quickly spread to National Review Online, Power Line and Michelle Malkin’s blog, as well as Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.
And of what were the Frosts guilty? Well, they own their own home, which they bought for $55,000 in 1990 and is now worth about $260,000; they invested in a commercial property, valued at $160,000; Halsey Frost, a self-employed woodworker, once owned a small business that was dissolved in 1999; and Graeme attends a private school on scholarship. I rely here on facts reported this week in The Baltimore Sun and The New York Times, both of which set straight the more outlandish claims made by the Frosts’ attackers.
The right is unapologetic. “The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a seventh-grader,” wrote National Review’s Mark Steyn. “If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game.”
OK, the Democrats are “fair game,” but a 12-year-old? No wonder nobody talks about compassionate conservatism anymore.
As a general rule, I am a fan of the blogosphere. It has broadened the public debate and brought new people into politics. And nasty stuff is by no means limited to the right-wing blogs. Left-of-center blogs whose political views I largely share have published offensive stuff, too. Shaun Mullen, who blogs at The Moderate Voice—yes, there are moderate blogs—is right to generalize when he says that the targeting of the Frost family reveals “the vicious underbelly of the blogosphere.”
So rather than just condemn the right-wingers as meanies, let’s take their claims seriously. Doing so makes clear that they are engaged in a truly perverse and incoherent form of class warfare.
The left is accused of all manner of sins related to covetousness and envy whenever it raises questions about who benefits from President Bush’s tax cuts and mentions the yachts such folks might buy or the mansions they might own. But here is a family with modest possessions doing everything conservatives tell people they should do, and the right trashes them for getting help to buy health insurance for their children.
Most conservatives favor government-supported vouchers that would help Graeme attend his private school, but here they turn around and criticize him for ... attending a private school. Federal money for private schools but not for health insurance? What’s the logic here?
Conservatives endlessly praise risk-taking by entrepreneurs and would give big tax cuts to those who are most successful. But if a small-business person is struggling, he shouldn’t even think about applying for SCHIP.
Conservatives who want to repeal the estate tax on large fortunes have cited stories—most of them never check out—about farmers having to sell their farms to pay inheritance taxes. But the implication of these attacks on the Frosts is that they are expected to sell their investment property to pay for health care. Why?
Oh, yes, and conservatives tell us how much they love homeownership, and then assail the Frosts for having the nerve to own a home. I suppose they should have to sell that, too.
The real issue here is whether uninsured families with earnings similar to the Frosts’ need government help to buy health coverage. With the average family policy in employer-provided plans now costing more than $12,000 annually—the price is usually higher for families trying to buy it on their own—the answer is plainly yes. All the conservative attacks on a boy from Baltimore who dared to speak out will not make this issue go away.
E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is postchat(at)aol.com.
© 2007, Washington Post Writers Group