In Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican Convention she mentioned her experience as the mother of a baby with Downs Syndrome:
To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.
I have to admit, this pledge surprised me. Two candidates who seek to shrink government and who are running with a what some consider a radical health care reform plan are going to advocate for families of special-needs children? They're going to be vigilant in enforcing the "progressive" laws that protect rights and benefits (including Medicaid) for the disabled? Really?
My youngest sister, now 20 years old, was born with cerebral palsy. She is severely disabled. No one knows like my mother how important it is that America be a welcoming place for my sister -- and how much work it takes. My mother has fought hard to defend my sister's rights for things like an equal education, access to public buildings, and the special funding middle-class families need for things like physical therapy and in-home care.
She has had to fight her health insurance companies, too. Almost every new procedure and device is initially rejected as "not medically necessary" before my mother jumps through the hoops to prove its necessity. My sister can talk, but it is incredibly difficult to understand her. When a new assisted communication device became available Mom made a video of my sister visiting her doctor and trying to communicate with him; only then did the insurance company deem it "medically necessary!"
This why McCain's health care reform plan makes me queasy. Would a McCain/Palin administration add to my mother's burden in seeking quality health care for my sister?* As for Palin, it doesn't appear that her own efforts towards health care reform have been terribly impressive.
That's policy; what about the personal? Many people, including Obama, have argued that a candidate's family life should have no place in political discourse. I appreciate that... and yet, much of Palin's family story makes me uncomfortable.
Oddly enough, my own mother's life mirrors Palin's in some ways. Both women have five children. Both women gave birth to severely handicapped babies when most of their other children where teenagers. And in both families, a teenage daughter became pregnant herself shortly after the birth of that sibling. My mother now wonders if there was a connection between my youngest sister's arrival and my other sister's pregnancy. And she knows that between these two children (not to mention the other three!) Ms. Palin must surely have her hands full.
What does it say about Palin that she is running for Vice President at a time of great need for her family? What does it say about her priorities, goals, leadership, and ambition? With all due respect to Barak Obama, I think these are reasonable questions to ask, especially when Palin so pointedly draws our attention to her family.
Check out Health08.org for full coverage of the health care reform debate.
As the campaigns continue, check in with the St. Petersburg Times' Truth-O-Meter.
A mother's perspective on the subject -- the mother of a high-functioning autistic son.
Another mother's perspective, mother of a mentally retarded young adult.
*For the record, my mother is more optimistic about McCain and Palin.