An 11-year-old boy whose mother died after losing her health insurance has become an advocate for health care reform -- and opponents of reform are gunning for him.
Marcelas Owens of Seattle lost his mother in 2006 after the 27-year-old woman was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a condition that can lead to heart failure if left untreated. Due to missed work, Tiffany Owens lost her job, and with it her health insurance. Not long after, she died of her disorder.
Owens appeared at a Capitol Hill press conference flanked by the Democratic leadership on Thursday, the day after he turned 11 years old.
"I don't want any other kids to go through the pain that our family has gone through," Owens said. "My grandma and I want Barack Obama and Congress and everybody to come together and to help get the health care bill passed."
The image of an 11-year-old boy with a sad story championing the health reform effort appeared to be too much for some conservative commentators, with columnist Michelle Malkin accusing the Democrats of "wielding the human kiddie shield as its last-stand defense for Demcare."
Malkin wrote, "Have you noticed something about the audiences that President Obama has cherry-picked to cheer his government health care takeover roadshow? They're getting younger and younger."
She added that if President Obama didn't end his public appearances on health care soon, "he'll be peddling Democratic reconciliation tactics on 'Dora the Explorer' and 'SpongeBob SquarePants'."
Malkin used that expression, "human kiddie shield," before, when President Obama answered an 11-year-old girls' question at a health care town hall in New Hampshire last August. "Look for Dems to play the kiddie human shield card to the hilt," she wrote.
Tim Graham at NewsBusters reported that Owens "has an entire family of liberal activists," and castigated the news media for not focusing more on his family's connections to Seattle activist groups.
Criticizing CBS' and MSNBC's coverage, Graham wrote that "what neither network shared with the viewer is how Marcelas has become a constant talking point for his home-state Democrat Sen. Patty Murray, and how he is a spokesman for a liberal lobby, the Washington Community Action Network."
The Seattle Times reports that Owens' mother "had been active with Washington Community Action Network, a Seattle-based consumer advocacy organization."
Also writing at NewsBusters, Matthew Balan criticized CNN correspondent Jim Acosta for calling Owens a "brave young man."
Arthur Delaney at the Huffington Post notes that the controversy over Owens follows a pattern that has played out before. In 2007, 12-year-old Graeme Smith became the target of muckraking when he urged President George W. Bush not to veto an expansion of children's health benefits.
Marcelas Owens appears to be holding up well under the political pressure, saying he has "no bad comments" about people who oppose health care reform.
"Their opinion is their opinion and they can say what they want about me," Delaney quoted Owens. "And I'll just keep turning around and doing what I'm doing."