Amy Ridenour

Do people on the dole have a reasonable expectation of privacy vis-à-vis their financial affairs?


That question, though not always my answer, is coming up frequently as defenders of the Democratic Party's $35 billion SCHIP expansion proposal condemn bloggers and talk show hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, who have examined the statement penned by aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and delivered as the official Democratic Party rebuttal to President Bush's weekly radio address by 12-year-old Graeme Frost, that the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is for "families like mine."

The questioners' question: If Graeme Frost's family isn't all that low-income, then maybe the SCHIP program doesn't need to be expanded by $35 billion to cover millions of extra families with even higher incomes than the Frosts apparently have.

Rather than address the core question, some say it is inappropriate even to consider the Frost family's circumstances, even if the people doing the considering are helping the Frosts raise their kids. This assumption reverses a thousand years of philanthropic practice.

Throughout history, charity has typically been given out voluntarily and to people whose circumstances were directly known to the donor. Donors usually knew, or could learn, if a recipient genuinely couldn't meet his own needs. As population growth and industrialization led to fewer people living in small towns, charity grew more impersonal. Then the growth of the welfare state made “charity” mandatory. And finally, hastened along by certain wrong-headed Supreme Court decisions, helped by activism by welfare advocacy lobbyists, an assumption developed that people who receive handouts are due privacy along with the help.

The obligation to be self-sufficient when possible had been reversed: Now the self-sufficient are obligated to assist those who are not, and it is considered bad form for the donor to question if the charity is misplaced.

There's more involved in the Frost case, of course, namely the fact that the family itself put its financial condition in the public square by agreeing to serve as the public face of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi's $35 billion public health expansion. Once you let your son go on a national broadcast to ask Americans to consider your financial situation, you ought not be surprised if a few of your fellow Americans do just that. Nor should you be surprised if some of them conclude that in some ways your life seems more prosperous their own, and they don't expect other people to pay for their health insurance, so why do you?