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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Obama and Clinton

I just finished reading two interesting articles about Obama and Clinton. The first article was by Nat Hentoff in the Sacramento Bee entitled "Barack Obama vs. Terry Schiavo" and the second by Stephen Drake at Not Dead Yet entitled "Hilary Clinton says Assisted Suicide is Appropriate Right to Have". Each article raises serious concerns with regard to the depth of knowledge Obama and Clinton have on disability rights. My expectations for Obama and Clinton are minimal at best--disability rights are not a priority for either candidate and there has not been one substantive discussion in the mainstream media about disability rights during the election campaign. I do not expect this to change any time soon. I am also aware it is simply too late in the tight campaign race to alienate voters hence I doubt Obama or Clinton will take a firm stand on any issue. But this has not stopped Obama or Clinton from annoying me to no end.

In the February 26 debate Obama and Clinton were asked if they would take back any of their votes made as public servants. Obama replied that he regretted congress interjected itself in the Schiavo case. Obama stated he thought this was a mistake, that the American people knew it was a mistake, and that as a professor of constitutional law he knew it was a mistake. The Shiavo case was handled miserably by the mainstream press. Aside from sensational headlines, few will recall that the real issue was not a right to die case as Nat Hentoff put it but a "right to continue living". Shiavo's parents and her ex husband did not help clarify the issues--indeed I for one thought they behaved quite poorly. What was never mentioned or discussed was the implications of letting the courts decide if Shiavo would live or die. A quick internet search reveals that every major disability rights group in the country was opposed to removing Shiavo's feeing tube thereby killing her. Disabled people are all too well aware that society devalues their lives and the Schivo case served as a reminder of this unacknowledged social fact. Obama should stand behind his original vote in the senate and think long and hard before he changes his mind.

As for Clinton, she sure lost my vote (not that she had it to begin with) when she stated that assisted suicide was an appropriate right to have. Of course, this statement contained multiple contradictions and refers to Oregon's assisted suicide law. Just like Obama failed, Clinton needed to conduct a quick search of assisted suicide and the handiwork of the notorious convicted Jack Kevorkian. Had she done so such a search would have revealed that those who commit suicide are not the terminally ill but often disabled people with a physical or cognitive deficit. The Oregon law has "safeguards" built into the law but somehow I do not trust the state to make an effort to help me when my life as a disabled person already has less value than bipedal citizens. Here I cannot help but note that Oregon's abutting state of Washington failed to protect Ashley X who was sterilized, an action that broke the law.

The two articles about Obama and Clinton underscore the degree to which they are both ignorant about disability rights. Another possibility is that they are stating what the mainstream press and American population wants to hear. What is very clear is that they are not pandering to disabled voters--indeed, they have no interest in them at all. As I have pointed out previously Obama and Clinton do not even bother to post information about disabled access at campaign events--and in this failure they have lots of company as not one candidate posts this information. To me, this is infuriating. While I do not like Clinton, I have no doubt she is a smart charismatic woman who has surrounded herself with a professional campaign staff. Obama too is very smart, a gifted speaker and has a professional campaign staff. Why then are Obama and Clinton unaware of disability rights? The skeptic in me thinks it is because number crunchers have told them that disabled people are among the poorest and most disenfranchised minority groups in the country. Not a single influential, rich, Hollywood figure exists among the disabled. Perhaps Obama and Clinton simply do not care. If this is the case they are typical Americans for few care about the rights of disabled people. This fact is thrust upon me every day when I leave my home and encounter needles social and architectural obstacles that were supposed to be made illegal by the ADA--a law the Supreme Court has done its level best to gut. Ugh, today is a frustrating day one in which I am not enamored with my fellow citizens or elected officials.

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