I did not get to see the entire Presidential debate last night because I was teaching. However, I did listen to most of the debate on my drive home. When Bob Schieffer asked about the qualifications of Palin and Biden as Vice-President I eagerly awaited an answer. I hoped that for the first time a substantive debate about disability might come up. Although not substantive, the exchange about disability between Obama and McCain solidified in my mind why Obama is the clear choice in the election.
The transcript of the debate is widely available and it is worth quoting some of it. In his answer, McCain fell back on well worn cliches. "She'll be my partner. She understands reform. And, by the way, she also understands special needs families. She understands that autism is on the rise, that we've got to reach out to these families, and help them, and give them the help they need as they raise these very special children. She understands that better than almost any American that I know. I'm proud of her".
As many have pointed out, Palin is not an expert on autism. She does have a nephew who has autism and all know her son Trig has Down Syndrome. This limited personal connection may give her an "understanding" of what is involved in raising children with "special needs" but that does not mean she has any added insight or expertise. This may come with time but to my knowledge her practical experience with disability is limited to caring for her son who is less than a year old. It appears to me she has made a connection with parents of children that have Down Syndrome but this has not translated into action. Indeed, the skeptic could postulate that Palin is exploiting these parents for photo opportunities that tug at the heart strings of those unfamiliar with disability. I also get a sense that Palin has not truly embraced or begun to get a nuanced understanding of the disability community. Again, this may come with time but as of today her failure to act, to change the rhetoric coming out of the McCain cmpaign and offer specific examples of what she would do to enhance the lives of children with special needs makes me question what she says.
The passage in the debate that is of great interest to me did not come from McCain. It was Obama's reply to the above quote that was dignified, polite, and raised the bar above partisan politics. Obama could have lobbed a nasty shot at Palin and the mean spirited comments she has made recently but graciously conceded she was a capable politician, one that has energized the Republican base. I give Obama credit for being polite, I doubt I could have held my tongue. Regardless, this statement by Obama stood out:
"I do want to just point out that autism, for example, or other special needs, will require some additional funding, if we're going to get serious in terms of research. That is something that every family that advocates on the behalf of disabled children talks about. And if we have an across the board spending freeze, we're not going to be able to do it".
Here we have a distinct and profound difference between Obama and McCain. The McCain campaign through Palin pays lip service to special needs children but offers no change in the draconian funding of programs for the people they supposedly care about. Furthermore, McCain and Palin have said nothing about the needs of disabled adults, Supreme Court decisions that have gutted the ADA, rampant unemployment and a myriad of other issues that marginalize disabled people. In contrast, Obama has a plan and a vision for how he wants to empower disabled people in both the short and long term. This is clearly presented and has been readily available for months at his website. If you do not believe me check it out for yourself. Obama's support of people with disabilities goes well beyond empty promises that are designed to generate a knee jerk response. I am not sure why Obama has such a good understanding of disability related issues. I suspect it has less to do with personal experience than it does with those he has received advice from but this is speculation on my part.
Simply put, last night provided proof positive that Obama is the clear choice for the disability community. Even if viewers were not swayed by Obama's words McCain's reply highlighted how unaware he is to the needs of disabled people. McCain replied "We need to spend more, we need to spend more, that's the answer--why do we always have to spend more?" Why do we need to spend more? Let me suggest McCain visit an independent living center, group home, adaptive sport center, rehab hospital, or a myriad of places that are grossly underfunded. There here will be exposed to a system and culture that crushes the spirit of many disabled people who want to lead an ordinary life other take for granted.
Paralyzed since I was 18 years old, I have spent much of the last 30 years thinking about the reasons why the social life of crippled people is so different from those who ambulate on two feet. After reading about the so called Ashley Treatment I decided it was time to write a book about my life as a crippled man. My book, Bad Cripple: A Protest from an Invisible Man, will be published by Counter Punch. I hope my book will completed soon.
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Thursday, October 16, 2008
A Solid Victory for Obama on Disability
Posted by william Peace at 6:23 AM
PhD 1992 in anthropology Columbia University, I am interested in disability rights and bioethics.
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Thank you so much for your insightful commentary.
Great article. I'd like you to visit my blog, too, because it relates.. http://www.people-pusher.blogspot.com. I'm going to add you to my favorite blogs if that is OK.
People Pusher, Thanks for the compliment. Of course you can add my blog to your list of favorites. All those that support the rights of disabled people are needed. We sure do have an uphill battle.
I've read that Obama's father-in-law has MS and uses a wheelchair. Thanks for your insight into this issue. Hopefully disability rights get much more attention. I can't remember them being addressed so directly before in an election. Maybe this reflects my limited memory for such things, but I'm hoping for more change and awareness.
Frida, Michelle Obama's father Fraser Robinson did indeed have MS. He was diagnosed when he was 30 years old. Robinson was a Chicago plant worker and by all accounts the foundation of the family. In interviews Michelle Obama repeatedly states that seeing her father continue to work and live a rich and rewarding life made her think about the world in a different way. I have no idea if this experience influenced her husband. I do know that Obama's platform on disability is well grounded and based on three key constructs: providing disabled people with an adequate education, increasing the employment rate, and supporting community based living. These are great building blocks to achieve equality.
I agree, the candidates' responses revealed a lot. The difference between exploiting or pandering "special needs children" and being a candidate for people with disabilities is a substantive plan with components that makes participating in real life as a citizen accessible.
I am a new visitor to your blog and I appreciate the information here as I have a daughter who is disabled. I will be passing on your blog link to others!
I just started reading your blog today after reading about it on one of the Spina Bifda lists. So maybe you have touched on this already. I have a special needs child who with McCain's healthcare plan, we wouldn't be able to get her insurance. This scares the heck out of us. My husband makes too much money for medicaid so we wouldn't qualify. Besides I can see McCain slashing that.
Have you talked about this yet?
Momto13, Glad the information on my blog is helpful. I hope my words will help you support your daughter's right to an education. I know my parents always stood by me and expected me to do my best.
Katwrangler, I have not touched upon the McCain health care plan. I am afraid if McCain is elected it will spell disaster for many people with disabilities. I have no doubt he will slash budgets across the board--the exception being the military. Paul Longmore has looked at this in some depth. He is a first rate scholar and disability activist.
Katwrangler, Here is a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal about McCain's plans for medicaid.
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