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Thursday, September 4, 2008

More on Politics and Disability

I have spent far too much time today reading various posts and news articles reacting to Palin's speech and selection as VP. It is clear the disability blogosphere is abuzz. I have posted comments on a few websites I like very much. As I grew increasingly guilty over not getting any lecture work done for my class that starts next week I realized I felt bad for being so critical of Palin. She simply has no experience with disability rights and gave birth to a child a few months ago. She cannot be expected to have a nuanced view of disability related issues. More generally, neither the Democrats or Republicans have embraced disability rights. This thought came to me when I read that both Obama and McCain websites are not accessible or usable to all Americans with disabilities. I have been critical of Obama in this regard in previous posts but the International Center for Disability Resources on the Internet took all presidential websites to task.

The above led me to ask myself which party and candidate is the best choice for disabled Americans? To me, it all boils down to one thing: the Community Choice Act. The Community Choice Act would allow people with disabilities and older Americans to choose to live in their own homes and communities instead of being forced into a nursing home. Both Obama and his running mate Biden have signed their support of this legislation. McCain says he supports community based services but does not support the Community Choice Act. Typical double speak if you ask me. While I generally support Obama, or support a politician as much as a skeptic can, I will be fascinated to see what impact if any Palin will have on the Republican Party. Would she have the nerve to go against the views of McCain and the Republican Party and support the Community Choice Act? I sincerely doubt it but she would earn my respect if she did so.

For those readers who are civic minded I encourage you to support ADAPT. ADAPT plans to lay siege to Washington DC between September 13-18. Over 500 ADAPT activists are committed to getting the Community Choice Act passed into law. ADAPT members are front line soldiers, real bad asses, in the battle for disability rights. I admire their confrontational style, ability to take over buildings, shut down mass transit systems, and reek havoc where they go. ADAPT is the largest grassroots disability rights organization in the country and they make this bad cripple look like a wimp.

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.