In last year’s presidential campaign, large chunks of the electorate and many disability advocacy groups were apoplectic that Sarah Palin made clear her advocacy for children with disabilities. She did so from a position of strength: She had a newborn with Down syndrome and a nephew with autism.
As I noted at the time, this was the first time any of the presidential candidates had specifically spotlighted advocacy for people with disabilities. Until Palin’s remarks, the national disability community had been seething over how they had been pointedly ignored.
After Palin’s remarks, they seethed all over again, just for different reasons.
Unfortunately, Palin’s use of the bully pulpit quickly got derailed from a laudable opportunity to advocate for people with disabilities to the gutter of partisan politics. Those politically opposed to Palin, including many disability organizations and researchers, pounced.
They were outraged that she had the temerity to mention disability. Essentially, their rather pitiful arguments were (a) how dare a Republican try to hi-jack disability issues, when the Democrats owned that territory (going back to the Kennedys’ advocacy for people with disabilities in the early 60s)? and (b) Palin was being politically opportunistic, the disability issue a convenient vote-grabbing prop.
There was no quarter given that Palin was genuinely prepared, if elected vice-president, to make this her vice presidential issue.
Perhaps the most vicious responses came from many in academia: the special education researchers and university faculty who, from their lofty perches, gleefully declared Palin’s remarks the confused babble of some Neanderthal hick with an IQ lower than the people she was advocating for.
It gave me a whole new perspective on my profession, who usually go to great lengths to remind us all how impartial they are, and how they know what’s best for people with disabilities.
A colleague at another university even took the time to pass on a hit-piece to a prestigious special education listserv I subscribe to. In that piece, the writer said that in Alaska, there were many others like Palin - “knuckle-dragging” epithet and all.
Fast-forward to last Thursday, and President Obama’s Jay Leno Show derision of people with disabilities, describing his poor bowling skills as something that would be seen at the Special Olympics.
Here’s what the President meant: “I bowl like a retard.”
Criticism of the President has been measured, at best. The listserv I’m on that so viciously went after Palin has been completely silent about President Obama's insult.
Not a word.
And certainly no words taking the President to task.
Here’s the sad truth: President Obama said what he thinks:
People with disabilities are less worthy than the rest of us. They can’t even bowl properly. Or run properly, or think properly, or see properly.
Go to the Special Olympics; see them unable to do things that others do well.
Have a good laugh.
Be thankful you’re not them.
Way to go, Mr. President.