Does Malkin Stump the Chumps?

One thing I am learning from Naomi Klein’s remarkable The Shock Doctrine is the idea that the stomach-turning atrocities of what Jeane Kirkpatrick termed (merely) authoritarian regimes of the 1970’s was not a series of outbursts from sadistic thugs so much as cold calculated strategies of control. By analogy, the creepy behavior toward the Frost family, whose son Graeme delivered the Democratic response to President Bush’s veto of SCHIP, may not be so much, well, creepy as tactical. At least Christopher Hayes thinks so:

It’s rare in politics to find a debate that manages to dig down to ideological bedrock, but the current furor over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-Chip) and the plight of a Baltimore, Maryland family that dared to speak out in favor of the program’s expansion is just such a rare instance.

…The Frosts are just the kind of household that would benefit from the program. With three kids and a combined income of $45,000 they’ve struggled to find health insurance after a car accident left their son Graeme in a five-week coma and needing lots of medical care. Luckily for them, Maryland’s S-Chip eligibility cutoff was high enough that they were able to secure health insurance for their children through the program. After the Democrats in Congress chose Graeme to give the party’s response to the president’s weekly radio address, right-wing bloggers, led by the odious Michelle Malkin, leapt into action. With neurotic obsession, they began raising questions about the family’s financial status, claiming that their trappings of middle-class existence (a home, kids – on scholarship! – in private school) meant they were frauds or hucksters. But they’re not. They’re just a working family who suffered a tragedy and can’t afford private health insurance. (Heck, they can’t even buy private health insurance since Graeme’s pre-existing conditions mean no insurer will go near them). Welcome to life in America in the third decade of conservative rule.

So why are conservative bloggers terrorizing this family? Why are they driving past their house and posting pictures of the school that Graeme attends? Why are they interrogating the Frosts’ neighbors? Well, one theory is that they are a pitchfork-wielding mob of hate-filled sociopaths who saw an opportunity to extract their pound of flesh from some random and defenseless family that had dared to align themselves with their political opponents. That’s pretty sound as explanations go, but I think there’s a deeper strategic component to the ferocity with which conservative have attacked the Frosts.

It was back in 1993, as the Clintons prepared to roll out their new universal healthcare plan, that Bill Kristol wrote a memo to fellow conservatives and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill warning them that their goal must be to “kill,” not amend, the Clinton plan. “Healthcare,” Kristol wrote, “is not, in fact, just another Democratic initiative … . It will revive the reputation of the … Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests.”

Hayes does not press the tactic to its conclusion, but it would be this: the Michelle Malkins of the slime-Graeme effort are merely drawing fire to distract attention from Graeme’s message that Bush’s veto hurts kids from working families. Malkin can take fire; in fact, it’s the wind beneath her wings.

What her compatriots can’t take is sustained public attention to the possibility fact that life can improve for working families and that only one (albeit vast) cabal of ideologues stands in the way.  And what her compatriots really can’t abide is the prospect of the public realizing “we are many; they are few.” The solution is that stories of grownups picking on kids trumps hopes for a better future every time.

And the more the blogs and the Keith Olbermanns play up the Malkin angle, the more they would be playing into the cabal’s strategy, which is, with apologies to Car Talk, a version of “Stump the Chumps.”

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