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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Palin and Politics of Disability

I am not a supporter of John McCain or the Republican Party. I find too many entrenched Republican positions extreme and go against common sense. Yet I hasten to note I am no fan of the Democratic Party. If it were up to me our country would be well served if the two party system was overturned. This is an unrealistic expectation and for better or worse we are stuck with the Republicans and Democrats, our choice for President McCain or Obama. Deciding who to vote for is simple for me--I hope Obama will win the election even if I no longer like him as much as I once did.

In terms of disability who is the better choice, Obama or McCain? Based on my reading and examination of disability related websites the choice is clear, Obama has the support of most disability rights groups. However, McCain's choice of Governor Sarah Palin has thrown many for a loop. Palin is a strange choice for McCain. Her complex family life has created a furor in the press corp and the tabloids have a field day writing about her pregnant 17 year old daughter. But what is of interest to me is the reaction to her youngest child, Trig, who has Down Syndrome. Within days I have grown weary of one vacuous article after another that discusses "special-needs children". Thus I looked forward to Palin's speech last night as I wondered how she would perform. And let me make one thing clear--last night was a performance, a made for TV event designed to sway voters. Palin did a good job and she should put to rest any comparisons to Quayle that are damning.

So, what did Palin have to say about "special needs children"? Not much aside from platitudes. I did not expect anything of substance as last night because she goal was to prove she was simply a competent person. Palin accomplished this with an expected feisty speech. As to disability related issues, for those unfamiliar with the subject Palin might have impressed voters. But what she really did was provide powerful images. Cindy McCain sat between Mr. Palin and the Palin's 14 year old daughter who cradled her baby brother while Sarah Palin spoke. At one point, Mrs. McCain held Trig. This is just what the Republican Party wanted. The image spoke volumes and were broadcast in prime time--conservative Christians and anti-abortionists were thrilled. The image projected would have some believe the Republicans care about "special needs children" and all those that are disenfranchised. Can you say compassionate conservative? Ugh, how stupid can Americans be!

The reality is Palin said little about disability. The most specific comment she made were as follows. "To the families of special needs [crowd rises to its feet cheering forcing Palin to stop speaking] to the families of special needs children all across this country, I have a message for you. For years you've sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. And I pledge to you that if we're elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House". I have no doubt Palin will indeed be a friend of parents who have a child with Down Syndrome. Although insulated, Palin will learn much stigma is associated with adults who have Downs Syndrome. As for her being an advocate, I find that hard to imagine given the fact the Republican Party record on support services for such special need families is abysmal. The skeptic in me thinks the Republicans got just what they wanted: a young, attractive, conservative woman that is unknown and has no track record in national politics. Palin will also provide a counter point to McCain's elderly status thereby negating the age disparity with Obama. Gosh, this sounds so jaded but national politics does this to me.


Penny L. Richards said...

Unless her "advocacy" started before she became Trig's parent, she hasn't been living with and thinking about disability issues for NEARLY long enough to claim the name "advocate." How presumptuous!

I don't want any vice president to be my friend, and offer 'special love.' I'd rather have my kid's rights protected, including an appropriate public education, accessibility, and community living.

william Peace said...

Penny, I could not have said what you have any better. Palin has not advocated anything for disabled people. I suspect Palin will learn a great deal in the years to come and hope that includes the belief that disability rights are civil rights.

Terri said...

She has not been at this long enough. "Special Needs Babies" are easy to advocate for. I want to know about her relationships with adults with disabilities and her beliefs about their membership in our society.

I want to see that something is different (not just different, better) in this campaign, for people with disabilities--and I don't.

william Peace said...

Terri, You too make an excellent point. Palin is very new to disability related topics. She cannot at this juncture be expected to have a nuanced understanding of the issues involved. And I agree advocating for special needs infants is not difficult. I am not hopeful Palin will have a substantial impact on the Republican Party conservative positions as they relate to disability rights. This is the same party that is responsible for the conservative make up of the Supreme Court that has done its best to gut the ADA for almost a decade.

Kristen said...

If it's true that Palin previously cut funding for special education, then this supports what I've always suspected about conservatives. They don't believe a thing really exists until they experience it for themselves first hand. This includes (but not limited to) poverty, homelessness, discrimination, racism, and disability.

But now she'll learn.

Angela L. Braden, Writer, Speaker, Professor said...

Great post. Thanks for lending your voice.

william Peace said...

Kristin, I have looked at the pdf files for the Alaskan budget as it relates to education. Initial reports that Palin cut the budget for special education by 60% or more is not correct. This is by no means a defense of Palin. She simply has no record on disability related issues. I think your comment about conservatives is a bit unfair--all people learn by experience. I know I have learned and continue to learn a lot about disability as I live this experience. Over the weekend what really made me wonder and worry about Pailin was her devout religious background. Anyone that supports teaching creationism as an alternate theory to evolution is putting religion before science and reason. There is a gulf between science and faith that cannot be breached.