The SCHIP debate is interesting because it pits certain core beliefs that conservatives and liberals allegedly hold in direct opposition to each other. Whether to hold the line on spending and entitlements or grant additional taxpayer dollars to the poor – this is bread-and-butter stuff. Throw in a few pinches of liberal guilt – "we’ve got to give the children health insurance!" – and you’ve got yourself a fine little D.C.-style cat fight.
It will not surprise frequent readers that I am backing Bush on this issue. He’s already proposed adding 20% more funding to the program and indicated he’s willing to do more than that. In this he’s less wrong than the Democrats.
So what’s the problem?
As far as SCHIP itself goes, there isn’t one, save in Democrats’ heads. Nancy Pelosi exemplifies this:
"It’s hard to imagine how we could diminish the number of children who are covered," said Pelosi, D-Calif., in an interview broadcast on "Fox News Sunday." "The president calls himself ‘the decider,’ and I don’t know why he would want to decide that one child has health care and another does not."
Why is it so hard to imagine? Is the American health care system fundamentally unfixable? Does it inherently demand that the number of people spending government health assistance dollars continually grow? Have Democrats given up on finding real solutions to the problem of increasing prices?
Nancy, there is always a decision to be made about the distribution of tax money and you know it. It’s only a question of thresholds. Some qualify, some don’t. Playing politics with words doesn’t change that because someone has to decide. Bush would rather he decide than you. I can’t blame him for that.
The fundamental question is this: Does a family earning $80K per year need government health care assistance? Democrats raised the roof as they screamed, "Yes!", at the top of their lungs. But that’s simply what they do – give tax dollars away, usually in hopes of future votes, even when they’re wrong – and is no reason to agree with them.
To help make their point liberals gave the public a poster family for the our consumption, the Frosts of Baltimore, in order to demonstrate the good that the SCHIP program was doing in the lives of the real American children. This seemed like a good fit because two of the Frost children were badly injured in a car crash 3 years ago and the program undoubtedly did help them get back on their feet.
Things began to get ugly when it became known that the Frosts live in house worth around $400K and the children attend private schools costing nearly $40K per year. Conservative bloggers ran with this story and the result was another blog-based shouting match, complete with the requisite whining, threatening, and mudslinging we’ve come to expect.
One important question to emerge from this nonsense is this: Should the Frost family have been subject to such intense media scrutiny?
I don’t think so. Ordinary private citizens should be spared from such excesses and real journalists would – or ought to – know that. Yes, they made themselves targets by becoming the face for a liberal welfare program that was in open debate. But it’s not like they have armies of lawyers to defend them against the media assault. The Frosts aren’t Lindsey Lohan stumbling out of rehab again, in other words.
And yet, there’s something more to this story. Halsey Frost calls the firestorm "a distractive technique." While true, that statement also misses the point. The Frosts themselves were a distractive technique meant to generate votes for the bill and increase the cost and scope of the program well above the expansion Bush was willing to support. Democrats knew there was going to be a veto and they used this family as an advertisement. That’s a real distraction, an emotional appeal that lends weight to non-factual arguments, as opposed to what Michelle Malkin, et al, did, which was push back harder than was called for.
Bonnie Frost says:
"The whole point of it for me was that this program helped my family, and I wanted it to help others. That’s the message, and I can’t believe the way the spotlight has been taken off of that."
It’s great that they wanted to participate in the political process by promoting something they believed in. More of us should do the same. Is that more or less likely now? I see this affair as having a chilling effect on ordinary Americans’ desire to get involved in public campaigns at anything but an anonymous level. In this regard, as in others, the way in which the Frosts were "investigated" seems counter-productive.
When Bonnie Frost says, "It’s frustrating", I imagine that’s an understatement. It probably took some personal restraint for her to leave it at that.
Liberal bloggers like Christy Hardin Smith couldn’t do the same. Christy says:
The difference between the far right wing and the far left wing: the far right will do anything — anything — so long as the ends justifies the means. The far left folks have ethical boundaries that they try very hard not to cross: things like attacking other people’s minor children is bad form, let alone harassing a family that includes a child with severe brain damage from an auto accident.
Ms. Smith’s profanity-laced tirade quickly disproved her thesis. Sadly there’s no real difference between the shouters on either side of the issue. But that is no surprise, as she and Digby demonstrated:
This is so loathesome I am literally sick to my stomach. These kids were hurt in a car accident. Their parents could not afford health insurance — and sure as hell couldn’t get it now with a severely handicapped daughter. And these shrieking wingnut jackasses are harassing their family for publicly supporting the program that allowed the kids to get health care. A program, by the way, which a large number of these Republicans support as well.
They went after Michael J. Fox. They went after a wounded Iraq war veteran. Now they are going after handicapped kids. There is obviously no limit to how low these people will go.
The worst part of this in my mind: a number of the bloggers above attacking these kids are parents. I know this, because I’ve spoken with them on occasion and we’ve talked about kids and family and life, and outside their “bloggy” personas, they seem to care about their own kids. I would never, ever sanction anyone attacking these people’s kids — any more than I would allow it for my own — because it is just plain wrong. It’s too bad that other people’s children who deserve nothing less than the same decency and care — and compassion for what they have been through already in their young lives that these people would expect for their own children – are the targets of the day, isn’t it?
From my perspective this is more emotional blackmail. Christy and Digby play the use of the word "children" like an it’s an ace they need to fill out a straight flush. What they’re effectively saying is that no questions can be asked because the Frosts’ welfare money was directed toward their children and that political positions that presume to support children cannot be questioned.
That is incorrect. The Frosts’ personal lives should be respected and some reasonable journalistic boundaries drawn simply because that’s their private business. The fact that they have children isn’t relevant. The question of whether they need welfare assistance is; however, it should have been handled more appropriately.
What is evident is that the blogosphere gives people who have never had a voice in politics the ability to project one. This episode, on both sides, demonstrates clearly that not everyone deserves to be heard. This is particularly true of a certain obnoxious segment of blog commenters – of which there are few here at the Gazette, thankfully – and blogs that actively encourage this low level of discourse and those who fail in their duty to moderate their users’ expulsions.
Returning to the question of whether the SCHIP expansion is a good idea or not I’ll quote Christy again:
News flash: a whole lot of people in America can’t afford health insurance, and they don’t have the padded retirement accounts, the family money, the hubby’s 401(K) or wingnut welfare to draw upon when life hands them a child with severe brain damage and another child fighting his way back to health after an accident devastates the whole family. They don’t live in a cookie-cutter McMansion and they have to work their asses off for everything they have and then some rather than having it handed to them by the Scaife Foundation. It’s called hard work and the American dream and last I checked that was a very good thing for anyone willing to work for it.
That’s hardly a news flash. Here’s the real deal. The Frosts suffered a tragedy that could happen to any one of us at any time. Money, privilege, and power only matter in the aftermath, and the government responded by providing benefits far above what one could reasonably expect. That’s great for them but not something to build a nation-wide program around.
As Christy knows full well, very few conservatives have "wingnut welfare" to draw on. My family certainly doesn’t. Our home is worth barely 1/4 what the Frosts’ is and if we sold it we’d be doing well to come out of the deal with the free-and-clear $ to pay cash for a decent minivan. Our kids go to a mediocre public school like most other Americans’ and are happy there while the education money that the Frost children consume in a single year would cover the government’s outlay for the vast majority of their entire K-12 experience.
Do I begrudge them that? No. One truth is that $50K in income for a family of 6 is chicken feed and I’m glad they got the help they needed in ’04 and ’05. But that doesn’t mean that I surrender the right to politely question the government’s allocation of resources in the present.
Another is that the Maryland program that benefits the Frosts included families with up to $83K in income and the new proposal by the Democrats is similar in the range of families it would include.
Why is that a problem?
One reason is income distribution. According to Wikipedia, only 21% of households earned more than $80K in 2006, meaning 79% would be eligible for the program, assuming equal distribution of children across all income levels. That seems excessive to me given that welfare and relief programs are designed to target the poor.
Another reason is the cost of health care itself. If there is something wrong with the price of health care in the U.S. – and anyone who thinks there is not must necessarily be deluded – it is primarily caused by the government’s involvement in the business, the health care organizations it has encouraged, the rules it has set forth to police these companies, and the way it has mismanaged the problem of liability lawsuits.
Given that it’s nearly impossible for me to believe that vastly expanding the size of any government health care program, be it for children or any other group group deserving of sympathy, is a good idea in anything but the short term and only then for the party that enacts it.
Fundamentally the government should not act as a charity, regardless of whether it is doing good or ill. Why? First, there is an inherent contradiction in such a system because the same agent is responsible for taxing the people and giving the largess back to its chosen beneficiaries. Second, the government is a woeful failure in terms of efficiency and fiscal restraint. Third, the debate over how to distribute tax "revenue" too often devolves into emotional pleas and angry shouting matches that ignore the optimal result. Fourth, the government ought not take from one person and give to another without permission simply as a matter of principle.
Charity should be an act of giving out of love. The government is, as Michael pointed out yesterday, in the business of policing and taxing its citizens, not loving them. Welfare is one outcome of this exercise of authority but is by no means the only way – or even the best way – for individuals in need to receive help from other people. It is, in every respect, the opposite of charity.
This is the truth that the liberals do not want you to see past.