Let's start with the obvious. Sarah Palin has an infant with Down syndrome. I was once in her position! I too found out, while I was pregnant, that I would have a baby with Down syndrome. My first reaction is to think: we have something major in common! She gets me, the way only other people who have been in this position do. But does she? Let's take a look at the evidence.
First, there was her speech at the Republican National Convention. She said, "And I pledge to you that, if we're elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House." I liked that a lot. Plus, her son was there, frequently on camera. This led to quite a bit of positive exposure for Trisomy 21, including several news reports that were much more accurate and balanced than those I'm used to seeing. Hooray!
But what did Palin mean, that she'll be an advocate for me, for children like mine? She didn't specify - then or since - and "Maria Comella, her spokeswoman, would not elaborate on what Ms. Palin would seek to accomplish for disabled children as vice president."
OK, so she's not talking specifics in this campaign, and she doesn't have a congressional voting record like the other three candidates so we'll look back at her record of volunteer work, charitable giving, and political actions as mayor of Wasilla and governor of Alaska.
1) Volunteerism: I couldn't find any public record of Palin volunteering. If you find information about her volunteerism for disability-related causes, please leave a link in the comments section so that I can update this post.
2) Caritable giving: Again, I struck out here because Palin won't reveal finances until after debate with Biden.
3) Speeches: Other than the RNC speech referenced above, I found nothing.
4) As Mayor: I found nothing applicable.
5) As Governor:
- In the "Issues" section of her campaign web site, Palin didn't mention disability.
- This summer she celebrated the "18th Anniversary of the ADA" in Alaska.
- Governor Palin signed a bill produced by a legislative task force that reallocated money within Alaska's education budget, shifting funds to more rural school districts and increasing the per-student allotment for students with special needs.
- But on the other hand, she vetoed half of the proposed Special Olympics budget for 2008 (Page 100, SB 221 with vetoes).
- Here's a video of Palin talking about these accomplishments . . . though perhaps her claims are a little exaggerated. And she believes that government just "gets in the way" of medical research for diseases like cancer, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.
- "When a young governor line-item vetoes six appropriations for community disability services or for accessibility modifications to public accommodations, that governor gives us reason to be skeptical about promises and prospective performance."
Of great concern to me is Palin's repeated - and recent - assertions that the size of government be cut way back. I support government funding for ADA enforcement and many other disability-friendly programs. I am concerned about a politician who vetoes previously noncontroversial educational budget items like libraries, textbooks, and safer landscaping, explaining that funding can be found elsewhere rather than from the government. (The entire text of the budget and the governor's vetoes are widely available online, if you have the time and inclination to wade through it all.) Also of especial concern to me is Palin's position on healthcare, specifically the desire that "Health care must be market-and business-driven," and her advocacy for "personal responsibility for personal health & all areas," as "personal responsibility & choices key to good health." Those quotes are from this year and aren't great news for those with "pre-existing conditions."
In the absence of much concrete information about Palin's support for disability-related programs, I'm looking at similar government programs and am very concerned by her positions.
I googled until my fingers were sore, looked through newspaper reports, budgets, and dozens of speeches. Outside of that comment at the RNC, I've found nothing from Sarah Palin supporting families with special needs. (For example, see On the Issues.)
In conclusion: Sarah Palin might indeed turn out to be an advocate for kids with special needs. But I've no evidence to show that she shares my priorities in this area. I can't vote based on that blind hope alone, without any assurance whatsoever that she supports the sort of legislation I'd like to see for people with disabilities.
Recap of my summaries for the other candidates:
- John McCain: Other than general support for disabled veterans, McCain has very little to say about disability-related issues on his campaign web site, and I am concerned about the importance he places on disability issues, and what that suggests about the policies he'd support as President. (Especially with all this regulation/deregulation stuff.)
- Barack Obama: Obama is far and away the strongest candidate with respect to disability rights and programming. He has long had a page on his web site devoted to disability issues, and has a long and strong track record of both supporting and sponsoring legislation to help people with disabilities and their families.
- Joe Biden: Biden is a strong supporter of disability rights, but he's not an activist. He votes the way I'd like him to on those issues, but it's not quite as high a priority for Biden as it is for Obama. Still, a good, solid record.