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Having a child with Down’s syndrome is not a political policy

Posted in Politics, Termination by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on October 24, 2008

Would Sarah Palin have got the Republican vice presidential candidate nomination if her son had not been born with Down’s syndrome?

It’s a serious question that has been highlighted by recent public comments by Palin and her use of Trig as a political prop to promote herself as a symbol for the Pro-life movement.

It’s also a question I think people should be asking themselves as they prepare to elect two of the most important political figures in the world.

When I wrote back in August that “I can’t help feeling slightly disconcerted about some of the media portrayal of her, and her son, as a symbol of the Pro-Life movement” this is exactly what I had in mind (“Palin: God Gave Me a Down Syndrome Child To Help the Pro-Life Movement”).

I also wrote that “I don’t think Palin is responsible for the media’s portrayal of her decision to go ahead and have her son”. However I was proved wrong by her declaration that “I’ve always had near and dear to my heart the mission of protecting the sanctity of life and being pro-life, a hardcore pro-lifer, but I think this opportunity for me to really be walking the walk and not just talking the talk.”

There is something desperately sad about the fact that someone is prepared to use the health of their child as an opportunity to push forward their views in an attempt win votes for political office. The last few weeks have seen an increase in the Republican party’s use of the ‘disability card’.

When asked to explains the qualities of his running mate during the third presidential debate, John MCain had little to say other than that she is a reformer and she “understands special-needs families”.

That statement would be understandable if McCain’s campaign had anything to say about children with special needs. As I have mentioned before, it does not.

Not only that, but Palin herself has precious little of any substance to say about special needs children either, other than that she will be “an advocate” (and the fact that she opposes Colorado’s proposed Amendment 51, which would raise taxes 2 cents on every $10 to increase disability services).

This report from KVBC is a prime example.

Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin says autism is an issue “near and dear” to her heart and she can’t wait to get to work helping more than 5,000 Nevada families affected by it. However, when pressed, she was unable to provide details on a plan to do that.

Palin did not name any specific expenditure she wanted to cut in favor of funding for autism research or services, nor did she name what specific programs she’d like to fund in order to help those families.

Palin has a nephew stricken with autism and a son with Down’s syndrome. She often tells crowds she will be an advocate for disabled children in Washington.

“Here’s the difference between John McCain and our ticket and Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” she said. “We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. And that’s why in not just that first speech, but in every speech I give, I talk about being an advocate and a friend in the White House for our families who have members who have these special needs.”

She is right about there being a difference between the two campaigns. It’s called a policy. The report continues:

McCain has supported autism initiatives in the past, but has not articulated how he plans to advocate for those families from the White House.

Barack Obama has released a specific plan to help the families dealing with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He has promised $1 billion annually in support and services by the end of his first term as president. He has also promised to appoint a Federal Autism Spectrum Disorder Coordinator to oversee all federal efforts and fully fund the Combating Autism Act.

The Obama campaign released several documents detailing its plans to help Americans with disabilities.

Given the lack of a detailed plan, what does Palin mean when she says says she is walking the walk? It’s a euphemism that means, quite simply: “I am so Pro-life I had a disabled child, even though I knew in advance that it would have Down’s syndrome”.

I will leave aside the fact that plenty of non-Pro-lifers might also make the same decision and that it reveals the hypocrisy among Pro-lifers that continuing with the pregnancy of a disabled child is still seen as extraordinary and simply state that if you’re going to run for office on a single issue like being Pro-life at least have the decency to come out and say so rather than wrapping it up as advocacy for disability.

Palin is reportedly due to give her first policy speech on Friday on the subject of funding for special education (which means I may later be eating my words. We’ll see.) Even that begs the question as to why Palin’s first policy speech is on an issue that is not part of the McCain-Palin agenda.

It appears to have been triggered by the response of the public to her and her family, rather than any particular position on special education from the McCain campaign. This is all well and good in terms of raising awareness for children with special needs, but shouldn’t running for Vice President be about more than personal agendas?

Maybe my view of Pain has been clouded by my perspective and I only see reports about her that deal with her attitude to having a Down’s syndrome child. Having said that, perhaps it is understandable that the Republican party went with special needs for her first policy speech. What were the choices?

Foreign policy?

The economy?

Current affairs?



The vice-presidency?


6 Responses

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  1. […] delivers commitment for special needs children Given my rant about Sarah Palin yesterday the sense of objectivity that remains from my days as a journalist […]

  2. Leticia Velasquez said, on October 25, 2008 at 11:01 pm

    Don’t underestimat the importance of having Trig in the media spotlight. I noticed a tripling of Down syndrome articles on my Google alerts since he hit the news, and chech this out: http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/16157
    Trig may have helped a bill become law to help parents exepcting such children make educated decsions.

  3. welcometoillinois said, on October 26, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    i have no noubt her profile has been good for the media portrayal of DS, i wrote about that here https://welcometoillinois.wordpress.com/2008/09/08/the-palin-effect-media-begins-to-take-ds-seriously/. That doesn’t mean i’d vote for her

  4. […] Having a child with Down’s syndrome is not a political policy Having said that, perhaps it is understandable that the Republican party went with special needs for her first policy speech. What were the choices? Foreign policy? The economy? Current affairs? Legislation? Regulation? […]

  5. […] issue in the US election. I compared the two parties’ policies here, ranted about Sarah Palin here, and gave her a (very) little bit of credit […]

  6. […] weighed up the policies of both campaigns, I ultimately concluded that while Palin talked a good game on support for people with disabilities, the McCain campaign […]

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