Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Enviably Comfortable

I've been busy lately, so the Right's orchestrated attack on a couple of children has barely percolated into my noggin.

For better or worse, I'm old enough to remember a time when things like this didn't happen. You probably are, too; it wasn't that long ago. If you're 30 or older, you can probably remember a time in America - before Michelle Malkin and her ilk burst upon us like a pinata full of cockroaches - when political marginalization was the least you could expect for subjecting injured children to nationwide slander.

Everyone agrees that healthcare is a serious issue. Everyone knows that accidents and illnesses can have huge medical, financial and legal consequences for children and their parents. None of the vacuous goons currently abusing the Frost family would claim that a scenario like the one Graeme Frost described is impossible; they'd be laughed off the face of the earth if they tried. Instead, they treat all individual victims of for-profit healthcare, and all individual beneficiaries of government aid, as frauds and underachievers who have a grubby private interest in their own health and that of their loved ones (unlike the advocates of for-profit care, who are concerned solely with the well-being of the Collective). The system will always be fallible in theory and blameless in practice.

We all know this. What we don't know - what we're afraid to imagine - is how much lower these fanatics are able to sink. Previously, their topsy-turvy victimology has portrayed middle-aged sexual predators as victims of teenagers, and the military as victims of "enemy combatants" who'd hanged themselves, and torturers as victims of the tortured, and the Vice President as the victim of the man he shot in the face, and the President as the victim of a bereaved mother. Everything that used to make the arrogance of power so intolerable - the callousness, the capriciousness, the disdain for individual lives - is now supposed to merit sympathy to the precise extent that it gets the outraged response it deserves from humane people. The Conservatarian commentariat has gone from sneering at the special pleading of Black Lesbian Nuns in Wheelchairs to portraying themselves as the ultimate oppressed minority; reasonable remonstrance with their cruel, ugly worldview is an act of intolerance along the lines of torching a synagogue.

And now, the poor downtrodden creatures find themselves cringing under the rhetorical lash of an injured 12-year-old, who had the gall to point out that vetoing SCHIP could mean that other injured kids won't be cared for as well as he was.

The thing is, this would be a valid concern even if the Frosts were every bit as wealthy as their detractors falsely claim; the family's financial status is completely beside the point. If he were a responsible or kind or honorable man, Bush would've signed SCHIP for exactly the reason Graeme Frost recommends: to ensure that vulnerable children will have access to appropriate healthcare. What infuriates the Right is the logic and decency of Frost's position; that's what has them lashing out and hissing like vampires who've been splashed with Holy Water. The debate here isn't about how much money you can earn building cabinets in Baltimore; it's about whether poor children should receive medical treatment as a matter of course, without first having to convince some grotesque cartel of antisocial cranks that they and their families are "worthy" of being treated like human beings.

Speaking of which, here's an edifying exchange between Thers and one of his trolls:

What are all of you doing to help poor children (when you aren't huffing and puffing on behalf of the enviably comfortable)?

Advocating for a rational healthcare system so that the poor don't have to accept charity from condescending, clueless maniacs like yourself.
UPDATE: The Democrats hoped that Graeme Frost would put a human face on SCHIP, but Republicans understand that attacking the human face of an issue is a reliable way to undermine its political support. Their goal, obviously, was to cause as many people as possible to base their opinions about SCHIP not on the reasonably clear-cut ethical and logical issues, but on negative emotions - or failing that, lazy suspicions - about the Frost family.

This is what bugs me about liberal attempts to trot out examples of "the deserving poor"; doing so buys into the essentially conservative notion that we can, and should, distinguish officially between different types of poverty (usually by applying standards that perpetuate it, such as the idea that "cheaters" are irredeemable).

Back in the eighties, Ronald Reagan's carefully crafted fantasy of the Welfare Queen, driving around haughtily in her Welfare Cadillac, did quite a bit to drive real images of black poverty out of the public consciousness. And the attempts to counter that image with images of the deserving poor simply reinforced the notion that we have the ability and duty to make this distinction (before we pull people out of the gutter, no less) rather than the ability and duty to relieve poverty per se, as Nathaniel Hawthorne argues:
There is so much wretchedness in the world, that we may safely take the word of any mortal professing to need our assistance; and, even should we be deceived, still the good to ourselves resulting from a kind act is worth more than the trifle by which we purchase it.
UPDATE II: Michelle Malkin comes face to face with the Enemy.

(Illustration: "The American Workingman of the Future, When the Labor Agitators Have 'Improved His Condition" Until He is Perfectly Satisfied With It," from Puck, ca 1890.)


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, Phila. Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

What anonymous said. Wow.