Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Graeme Frost and the Oprahfication of American Political Discourse

There's been quite the kerfluffle about young Graeme Frost, and his family's financial situation. A couple of weeks ago, the Democrats had Graeme Frost -- age 12 -- deliver their response to President Bush's radio address. Not surprisingly, the folks at Thing Progress are delighted with this little stunt -- the Democrats, you see, are "daring to put a human face on the SCHIP program at a time when Bush was proposing a 'diminishment of the number of children covered.'”

How daring of them.

Apparently the folks at Thing Progress think our politics aren't emotional enough. If there is one thing we are not short on, it's human faces. If anything, we need fewer human faces, and more cold, hard analytical reasoning. Putting a twelve-year-old on the radio like one of Jerry's Kids is emotional and manipulative, a way of bypassing reasoned debate and argument. It's all part of the Oprahfication of American political discourse, and it is, in general, a Bad Thing.

I'm old enough to remember when people were discerning enough to ridicule Jimmy Carter for seeking his daughter Amy's advice on arms control. We really ought to ridicule the Democrats for sending twelve-year-olds to respond to the President. And it's incredibly hypocritical for the Democrats to become outraged when people decided to check the anecdote they were using and began questioning whether the Frost family is needy enough that it "deserves" government aid. Here's a hint for our friends on the left: if you don't want people to check your anecdotal claims about the necessity of government programs, then stop using anecdotes. But if you put the poster kid in the wheelchair up on stage, don't act all outraged if somebody decides to check if the kid can walk. (I'm using that in a metaphorical way, since Graeme does seem to be ambulatory.)

As Mark Steyn put it:

Over the weekend, I posted a couple of things re Graeme Frost, the Democratic Party's 12-year old healthcare spokesman. Michelle Malkin reports that the blogospheric lefties are all steamed about the wingnuts' Swiftboating of sick kids, etc.

Sorry, no sale. The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a Seventh Grader. If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man's job, then the boy is fair game. As it is, the Dems do enough cynical and opportunist hiding behind biography and identity, and it's incredibly tedious. And anytime I send my seven-year-old out to argue policy you're welcome to clobber him, too. The alternative is a world in which genuine debate is ended and, as happened with Master Frost, politics dwindles down to professional staffers writing scripts to be mouthed by Equity moppets.


Now, all that said, I do think that hilzoy over at Obsidian Wings has a point: get the facts right. As it turns out, Graeme's family owns a nice house, but they bought it years ago when it was dirt cheap because it was in a bad neighborhood. Graeme attends a pricey private school, but he does so on a scholarship. From what I can tell he does seem to be the sort of lower-middle-class kid for whom the program appears to be intended. But there's no reason, in principle, why people shouldn't check the telling anecdotes used to advance certain policies.

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