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Abused by her mother _ and politics

Florida is home to an ill-fated child whose life was ruined upon becoming a political pawn. No, this is not another lamentation about Elian Gonzalez.

This is the tragic tale of Jennifer Bush.

Do you remember Jennifer? Probably not. First lady Hillary Clinton, who helped turn Jennifer into a national political prop for health care reform in 1994, must be very grateful that we've all forgotten the poor little girl from Coral Springs. Jennifer's story, which took a shocking but largely unnoticed twist last week, is not merely a case of legislation-by-anecdote run amok.

It's poster-child abuse.

Six years ago, Jennifer's mother wrote a widely publicized letter to the White House. "Do you know what it is like to choose between purchasing groceries for the week to feed your family, or buying needed medications for your chronically ill child?" Kathleen Bush asked.

Pale and wan, young Jennifer suffered from unidentified chronic digestive problems and myriad ailments from birth. She had her gall bladder, appendix and fragments of her intestines removed. Those organs were replaced with a tangled cable of feeding tubes that constricted Jennifer's 43-pound frame. Surgeons threaded a catheter into the girl's heart. After 200 hospital visits and 40 operations, the Bush family had racked up medical bills worth more than $2-million.

Puzzled doctors and nurses scratched their heads over Jennifer's 33,000-page medical file. The media ran maudlin profiles of the family. With TV crews in tow, saintly mother and sickly child headed up to Capitol Hill to campaign for Clinton health-insurance mandates.

Politicians unquestioningly embraced the Bushes and their tale of need. Hillary cuddled with 7-year-old Jennifer for the cameras; their mugs were splashed on the pages of USA Today and newspapers across the country. Shamelessly coached, Jennifer gave the Clintons a lucky silver dollar "to bring you good luck so everyone can have good insurance." In another pre-programmed, kiddie-sized sound bite, Jennifer dutifully told the press: "I pray every night that I can get better _ and that everyone can have insurance."

Jennifer's mother reveled in the relentless media attention and generous outpourings of public sympathy. Several years before Hillary deified Mrs. Bush and elevated Jennifer to poster-child stardom, suspicious medical professionals had already begun questioning the mother's role in making her "beautiful little angel" sick. Nurses complained that Mrs. Bush was force-feeding her child with unnecessary seizure drugs that made her vomit.

Independent specialists conducted extensive tests on Jennifer and found no evidence of digestive disorders. When Jennifer was separated from her mother for treatment at a Cincinnati hospital, the starved child feasted mightily on pizza, hot dogs and chocolate bars. Meanwhile, authorities discovered that while the Bush family claimed poverty because of Jennifer's health problems, they had splurged on trips to the Bahamas and Disney World, house remodeling and a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

Dr. Eli Newberger, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, concluded that nothing in Jennifer's extensive records indicated "that the child has any underlying illness except the suffering she has had to endure as a result of efforts to portray her as needing urgent care." Jennifer was removed from her family in 1996 and has been healthy ever since.

And now, the final piece of the story that didn't make it onto the front page of USA Today or into the first lady's talking points: Last week, Kathleen Bush _ Hillary Clinton's once-proud and loud sister-in-arms _ was sentenced to five years in prison on two counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of fraud. She also pleaded guilty to a separate count of welfare fraud for misrepresenting $60,000 in assets on Medicaid forms.

Mrs. Bush's behavior is an extreme example of the Nanny State opportunism to which Hillary Clinton has dedicated her life. It's enough to make you sick.

Michelle Malkin is a Creators Syndicate columnist.

Creators Syndicate