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The Collective
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

I must confess, the spectacle that has emerged over the Democrat’s usage of a 12 year-old Graeme Frost to give the response to the President’s weekly radio address regarding the SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) has really hit remarkable proportions and underscores a lot of what is wrong with our politics in some quarters these days.

The debate itself, and the gamesmanship between the Congress and the President is pretty typical stuff. Both sides have goals that they are trying to further through this process and both are seeking to score political points. Nothing new there. Indeed, the only maddening thing about the debate is that there is probably a consensus point that could make both sides happy in the short term, but compromise isn’t the goal as much as the aforementioned point-scoring is. George Will’s Newsweek column from last week outlines the politics rather well. Ultimately, there is a real debate here that links up to long-terms questions about health care in the United States. However, why have a real debate over policy when other nonsense can be pursued?

The ugly side of all of this has emerged over Graeme Frost (via the NYT):

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.

Now, the usage of individual citizens as policy props is nothing new (and something I am not a fan of). For example, we see it every year at the SOTU, an activity made popular by President Reagan and used frequently by Presidents Clinton and Bush. Usually, however, these attempts at heartrending and/or inspirational examples usually are promptly forgotten. However, in this case, not so much. If anything, Megan McArdle is correct when she notes:

2) Anecdotes, no matter how photogenic, are terrible ways to make policy. It doesn’t matter how crappy your public policy is; I guarantee I can find one very telegenic person who is better of under your godawful boondoggle of a system than under almost any other potential system. But argument by anecdote is what we seem to be stuck with, particularly in the realm of social policy affecting children.

Indeed.

In this case, a number of bloggers have gone a bit rabid, with Michelle Malkin leading the pack (which is ironic, as John Cole noted the other day, given her own experience with cyber-stalking and the release of public information about her family on the web) and with numerous others, including Mark Steyn and Rush Limbaugh (amongst others) piling on.

This initially led to a number of inaccurate reports as to the economic status of the Frosts and a lot of rather vicious rhetoric. The Baltimore Sun has an actual account of their basic economic status. At a minimum, they do legitimately qualify for SCHIP, whether one liked the program or not. Further, they are not especially good examples of “mission creep” of the program that is part of Republican opposition to the program.

The attacks and semi-investigation (I say “semi” because the “investigation” started with things like postings to web fora and ranting rather than serious research and reporting) led Ezra Klein to ask What Has Happened To The Right?

I think that the question is problematic insofar as any blanket statements about The Right or The Left are far too broad to be useful or fair. However, I think if one narrows the question to what is wrong with a certain class of Right-ward commentators (including Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Steyn and others), then there is a legitimate question here. There is a remarkable amount of anger out there and ultimately a lack of seriousness that unfortunately appeals to a large number of readers/listeners. I think John Cole is right when he argues that this type of vitriolic nonsense has a lot to do with the dwindling number of Republicans at the moment. Instead of a reasoned debate we get rants about the “Betray Us” ad or flag lapel pins.

I will say this: there is a Malkin wing of the party that loves this kind of stuff (and includes Limbugh, O’Reilly, The Corner, the Weekly Standard and others). There was a time when I would have felt politically connected to many of those folks (although not all). However, I don’t know if it is me, them, or a combo, but I am sick to death of these people and their views of both politics and public discourse. Of course, as I noted a few months ago, I am not drawn to the Democrats, either.

Judging from the poll numbers, however, I am not alone.

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Filed under: US Politics | |

12 Comments

  1. Actually I’m rather glad there was a blow up on this.

    I really dislike the idea of anybody having ultimate moral authority. “Believe me because I’m a 12 year old that was in an accident” is roughly equivalently repugnant to believe me because I’m an actor, or a victim, or some other class of supercitizen who’s smarter by virtue of being in that class.

    I’m not at all sure that the majority of this type of anger eminates from the right. Read some of the reviews of Justice Thomas’ recent book if you want to see anger. Maureen Dowd had a excellent example of Thomas derangement in the NYT within the last day or so.

    As far as the smears go, those may come from all sides. Media matters regularly shops around out of context smears against conservative figures hoping someone will pick them up. Indeed one of their hit pieces on Limbaugh was repeated here not long ago. However I’m having trouble coming up with a conservative equivalent of these attempts to smear with the goal of smearing only.

    Comment by Buckland — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 11:58 am

  2. I agree that, as noted, arguments via anecdote are useful.

    I don’t mind real journalism and research about such anecdotes, as I also note.

    However, I object to the vitriol. I also lament that Malkin and her ilk seem to be representative of a key segment of mainstream conservative commentary.

    And really, the issue isn’t “both sides do it” it is the particulars of this story.

    I stand by my post on Limbaugh, which primarily focused on the indisputable fact the Limbaugh dichotomizes the world. And I remain unconvinced, having listened to numerous clips, that Media Matters was wrong in their basic assertion.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 12:07 pm

  3. In each of your three examples we see the Dems making an issue out of something they should not have and doing it in a way they should not have.

    Patreaus should not have been attacked in such a way, equating wearing flag pins with false patriotism was off base, and trotting out a kid to try and disparage the President and his appropriate veto was cheap. In each case conservatives responded with truth. I see nothing wrong with that.

    Nothing is wrong with the right unless people like John Cole have an aversion to the truth. How much of this nonsense must we endure before our indignation reaches a point of vitriolic responses?

    Comment by Steve Plunk — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

  4. There are ways to argue about all of those things with apoplexy, however.

    From my personal perspective, a lot of my problem is one of tone and that fact that outrage is substituted for a real debate.

    And automatically asserting that someone has an “aversion to truth” as a rejoinder simply places into the critique, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  5. Lets see

    1- Michelle Malkin was the first blogger I read regularly. That influenced me to start blogging.

    That said, Michelle is too conservative for my own tastes and while I visit her daily, I don’t pay all that much attention. Actully I come to Poliblog more often today. :)

    None of this has anything to do with Michelle indirectly calling me a moonbat once. She’s linked to my blog 4 or 5 times too.

    Note- I’ve been called a right wing nut job at Daily Kos too. Like if I was standing in the middle of intersection, I get hit from both sides.

    2- Mark Steyn I could never stand. Hard right, tasteless at times(His assault on the manhood of the Virginia Tech victims is just one example) and just careless with the facts. As a Floridian I never knew before reading Steyn that my state was a part of the Carribbean. Give that man a map.

    3- Rush I listened to about 10-15 years ago. I don’t listen to talk radio any more, except for the few times I’m out driving long distances and even then seldom.

    4- The Weekly Standard. I had a beef with their blogger Michael Goldfarb two months ago. He criticized the New Republic(A magazine I subscribe to) for lousy fact checking over the Scott Thomas Beauchamp, but when I caught him in a mistake, Goldfarb wouldn’t make a correction.

    Probably worse, a week before that mistake Goldfarb took full credit for a letter written by a GI. The GI is the son of another blogger that I know. On hearing this mother had a son at the same base as Beauchamp, I suggested her son write Goldfarb.

    The Soldier did, he ccd copies to his mother and me in the process. Goldfarb despite promising to credit the mother for helping him get this info, never did.

    I got the email exchanges for proof and ran it all on my blog last August.(Little good it did. My expose on Goldfarb got only a belated link from Capt Ed about 3 weeks after that fact but nary a comment from any readers) The right likes to throw stones when it comes to crappy journalism, except when they do it themselves. I can mention at least three recent stories where foreign born legal immigrants two with Spanish surnames, were immediately labelled as illegals by some. Even despite one case where it said the man in question had an American stepfather. That should have clued these bloggers in that the man in question was probably legal(which it turned out he was).

    Reasoned non kneejerk partisan thinking in the blogosphere? It is hard to find. Someone as smart as Ed Morrissey, is going off on diatribes of late on certain subjects. Most people come down liberal or conservative, and the blogosphere seems to attract or feature the ones who come down the hardest on each side.

    Steve, BTW you forgot the Nancy Pelosi head scarf flap when mentioning the flag lapel and Bertay Us brouhahas. Don’t forget Norman Hsu or the Iranian President’s visit to Colombia either.

    One last thing thing about the Beauchamp/The New Republic blowup. This is a magazine with a 60-70,000 subscribers. What impact does TNR really have? As a subcriber, I rarely read the diarist section and I wonder how many do.

    Cheers,

    Bill

    Comment by The Florida Masochist — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  6. My most sincere apologies. I should have said Ezra Klein not John Cole. His attack on the right is nothing more than an attack on the truth. If we need an example of vitriol read that dandy.

    I stand by by term “aversion to the truth” as a tempered, reasonable statement especially when put beside Klein’s statements such as the right becoming “sick and twisted and tumorous and ugly” and “the shrieking,atavistic ritual of personal destruction the right roars into every few weeks”. His whole piece paints the conservative right as evil incarnate.

    So, no, my words cannot be placed within the critique.

    I would also put forth a challenge to fond anything as vile written by a conservative describing liberals. Maybe it is out there but I have yet to see any examples.

    Comment by Steve Plunk — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 3:52 pm

  7. Beyond the vitriol, I think we are seeing a fundamental difference in values here.

    The right-bloggers are saying that to retain even a marginal middle class existence while receiving any public assistance is wrong, is theft from taxpayers and should be stopped.

    The left is saying that people should not be driven into homelessness by a medical emergency and to demand that people divest themselves of all assets to receive any assistance is wrong.

    They are incompatible worldviews and one will eventually end up prevailing. My personal view is that the right is being tone-deaf on this and like Terry Schiavo, this adamant resistance will backfire.

    Comment by Not the senator — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

  8. As I’ve said before, people who are outraged at the drop of a hat risk becoming the boy who cried wolf. In this particular case, (1) the child’s family qualifies for S-CHIP under current rules, it’s not a case where he would have been saved had only the President expanded the program; and (2) although the family’s income is within S-CHIP’s boundaries, the family apparently has a good amount of real estate, so if S-CHIP did not exist the family may have been able to pay for care (and if not, hospitals are required to provide emergency care regardless of ability to pay).

    The dispute between Congress and the President isn’t over getting rid of S-CHIP. It’s not even over whether to expand S-CHIP. It’s over how much to expand S-CHIP. I don’t know what this anecdote was supposed to contribute to that discussion. Truth be told, I know it wasn’t meant to contribute anything, it was meant to distort the issue and imply that President Bush was this close to stealing health insurance from poor families.

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

  9. Clearly there are extremists on both sides, and one can find examples to suit one’s view til the cows come home.

    Myself, I find both brands of frothing, foaming fanaticism to be obnoxious and off-putting — but the spewers of the frenzied filth aren’t who have me concerned. Rather, I’m far more worried about the people who hang on their every word…

    Comment by Polimom — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 8:20 pm

  10. Indeed.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Wednesday, October 10, 2007 @ 8:41 pm

  11. “My most sincere apologies. I should have said Ezra Klein not John Cole. His attack on the right is nothing more than an attack on the truth. If we need an example of vitriol read that dandy.”

    Actually, it was attack on truth, it was attack on _lies_. If those righty bloggers were beholden to the same standards as Dan Rather, they would be long ago sacked. 90% of assumptions from that “citizen investigation” AKA googling turned out to be false. Publishing some anonymous freeper fantasies as facts has nothing to do with “looking for truth”. I wonder if you would be OK with Dan Rather using this line of defense, “I was just asking questions”.
    Malkin was not _just asking questions_. She was publishing falsehoods without bothering to check the facts.
    The things would be kind of different if your guys wouldn’t manage to get all your facts wrong.

    Comment by Nikolay — Thursday, October 11, 2007 @ 6:31 am

  12. “I would also put forth a challenge to fond anything as vile written by a conservative describing liberals. Maybe it is out there but I have yet to see any examples.”

    Michelle Malkin, Anne Coulter and Michael Savage each have much, much, much larger audiences than Ezra Klein, and have all repeatedly advocated violence against pretty much everyone on the planet at this point.

    For every violent threat that a liberal has made in a comments forum, I’ll show you 10 that a conservative has made in a comments forum. For every 1 nasty below-the-belt statement a liberal makes in a blog with less than 10k hits per week, I will show you 2 mainstream media conservative or Congressperson sinking to that exact same level. Only in front of an audience of millions on the television or radio.

    In fact, one of the things that drove me towards the ‘liberal’ side of things (despite the fact that I’m a straight white Southern upper-income male who puts a high premium on personal responsibility) was the violent and rude rhetoric of mainstream conservatives. Both sides engage in conspiracy theory mongering and childish name-calling. But one side clearly has a greater penchant for threatening people with physical violence. And that’s conservative. There’s just no arguing the fact.

    Comment by Chris — Wednesday, October 17, 2007 @ 1:27 pm

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