Monday, September 15, 2008

Why the Palin Disability Debate is Misguided

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I really don’t care which political party Sarah Palin calls home.

I’ll also reiterate this: I am very interested in what people in powerful and influential positions (and those about to assume those positions) have to say about disability issues.

The blogosphere has had a lot to say about Sarah Palin and her youngest, Trig, who has Down Syndrome. However, there’s been way more heat than light, which, I suppose, was predictable, if no less frustrating.

Essentially, everyone seems to have focused on two issues: One: That Palin decided to birth Trig even after the DS was diagnosed. Two: That she made a point in her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention that, if elected, she would be an advocate for people with disabilities.

Republicans took Palin’s birth decision and her comments as proof of her absolute pro-life credentials and that she would, they hoped, carry that pro-life credential to aid their cause when elected.

Democrats jumped to other conclusions. They saw Trig’s birth as a shot across the bow at pro-choice voters and that her mention of disability advocacy was a cynical attempt to sway the country’s largest voting majority: people with disabilities.

And so it goes. Disability as political football.

And it completely misses the point.

Everyone is so intent on blaming the other side or defending their side, that, as usual, the true, crucial, and very pressing issues that the disability community still faces in this country are, once again, marginalized.

The more I learn, the more I’m convinced of a couple of things:

First, advocacy with, and on behalf of people with disabilities is dangerously fragmented by all sides that get sidetracked with things like party affiliation and a host of other distracters (for example, gender issues, ideological red herrings, decidedly unpragmatic approaches to solving problems, etc.).

Second, these distracters quickly overwhelm the original focus of what actually matters most – the disability issue, pure and simple.

Third, is the amazing inability or unwillingness of many disability advocates to talk to each other, agree on what they can, put aside that which they cannot, and rigorously focus on the disability angle alone.

I don’t care if, as someone who wants to advocate with or on behalf of disability issues, you are Independent, Democrat, or Republican. Or whether you are an atheist, Muslim, or Christian. Or you are (fill in the blank).

You get the picture.

I’m not suggesting that a raft of other, extraneous factors don’t impinge on how we advocate for people with disabilities.

Let’s just try, shall we, to make them the background, and disability, and disability only, as the foreground?


Annie said...

I agree completely, Mark. Together we stand, divided we fall.

Some of the best advocates for disability (especially related to prenatal eugenics) are as far as you can get on other issues from me.

We set those differences aside and move forward. The judgment of human lives and the resulting abortion, or withholding of care by government, physicians, or covert hospital policies is very wrong.

The situation with Palin is a tremendous opportunity for DS and disability. I say let's not waste it on cat fights over other issues, as important as they are.


Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Thanks for the comment, Annie. I'm increasingly concerned that these more peripheral issues cloud out what we are trying to achieve. I don't for one second think that most of them are not, in their own right, important, but we must stick more closely together around disability first, everything else second.

Mark said...

This is a good post. For a review of the candidates' positions on disabilities (with a Dem slant), see

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Thanks, Mark. The point I'd make is that while both campaigns have their template positions on disability, etc., Palin was the first to explicitly make a point about disability in her nomination address. The other three candidates had the chance, but didn't, for whatever reason. Their silence could easily be interpreted (and was, by many in the disability community) as ignoring a major constituency.

friend from gwn said...

"There but for the Grace of God go I"

'Normal' persons everywhere, including all politicians, need to generally see themselves as being, constantly, at risk and only an instant away from becoming disabled themselves.

A simple fall may cause a head injury to change a life forever. I have seen this result in Canada. But, it could happen anywhere/any time.

Good blog, mark. Thanks.

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Thanks for the comment. Realizing this should make all of us more sensitive to those with disabilities, but, I'm afraid, even in first-world countries, this awareness is lacking. Of course, things are much worse in many developing countries.

Anonymous said...

Spot on. We need to focus on ground floor realities and not vague political (or other affiliations which shift constantly anyway. Democrats become Republicans and vice versa. People switch religions and so on. Disability issues remain constant. I have thus focussed on voting for individuals, not political parties or religious/ethnic affiliations.