How many Americans do not have health insurance? How many of the jobless do not have unemployment insurance? How many children are born into poverty? These questions were posed to George Bush on NBC's "Meet the Press," and the vice president could not answer them. He did say, though, that the United States has the best health care system in the world. He should have said the best money can buy.

The questions to Bush were asked by The Post's David Broder. He prefaced them by noting that, more than his GOP rivals for the nomination, Bush has lived in a privileged world. Bush not only is a millionaire but for the past seven years has lived within the cocoon of the vice presidency. Air Force Two might not be Air Force One, but it's not a Greyhound bus, either.

Given the Broder Test, Bush flunked. He did not know the number of people without health insurance (37 million). He did not know the number of unemployed without unemployment insurance -- his guess of 50 percent was low. (The figure is close to 70 percent.) And he did not know that one child in five is born into a family living below the poverty line.

What Bush did know was that the United States has "the best medical- attention system in the world." Scanning the globe with ideologically tinted glasses, he singled out England as having precisely the sort of health care system he wants to avoid: "I don't want to see it {the United States} go into the mode of England or this whole concept of socialized medicine."

Well, neither do I. But the infant mortality rate for the United Kingdom is 11 per 1,000 live births. The figure for the much wealthier United States is precisely the same -- hardly a triumph. In fact, the American triumph evaporates entirely when compared with infant mortality figures for other industrialized nations. Japan's is six per 1,000 live births; Holland's is eight, Canada's 10, Australia's 10, France's 10, Germany's 10, and Spain's (yes, Spain!) yet another 10.

In a comparison of infant death among 20 industrialized nations made by the Children's Defense Fund, the United States ranked -- are you ready for this, Mr. Vice President? -- last. Most of the other countries have some form of what Bush might call socialized medicine -- extensive government programs to provide health care to the needy.

Of course, these figures are averages. The sort of people Broder had in mind -- the poor, the unemployed -- have much higher rates of infant mortality. In Washington, the resplendent capital of the recent summit, the rate is 21 per 1,000 (24 for nonwhites). This is approximately the rate for Rumania. Detroit's rate is 21, Atlanta's 19.3, Newark's 18.6 -- figures that are a national disgrace. In some parts of America, a newborn has about the same chance of dying in his first year as a child in a poor, backward country. Tell his parents that we have the "best medical-attention system in the world."

Bush's sorry performance is not necessarily the result of wealth. Franklin Roosevelt, maybe the most radical of American presidents, was as close as we have to an aristocrat -- and his equally wealthy wife, Eleanor, was denounced by some conservatives as "a flaming Red." Their older relative, Theodore, was likewise a progressive -- and he didn't have to work for a living, either. And John F. Kennedy, another liberal, was the son of one of America's richest men. (Indeed, another son, Edward, is the Senate's foremost liberal.) No, some people can overcome the handicap of wealth.

In fact, Bush's resounding F on the Broder Test is not necessarily a reflection of his privileged life (although it may be), but of the Reagan administration's and the nation's lack of interest in the plight of the poor. It's not likely any of the other candidates, including some Democrats, would have done any better. Over the past seven years, greed has been exalted, the poor ignored -- and all of it has been excused by a sort of social Darwinism: we all get what we deserve.

But infant mortality -- as good a measure of health care as there is -- ought to give even social Darwinists pause. Can it be said that an infant has earned an early death -- or, maybe even worse, a life crippled at birth? How can someone who exalts life as Bush does, who denounces abortion as the killing of the unborn, care so little about these children after they are born that he pronounces our pathetic health system "the best in the world"? The answer, I fear, is not that he's uncaring, but that he's ignorant. Either way, to a struggling newborn and its parents, it hardly matters. It amounts to the same.