I spent most of my Labor Day weekend watching the Republican National Convention, which I recorded on my DVR so I could write about the event in my capacity as the National Disability Examiner. First, I composed a more news-oriented column about the convention. This is my commentary as a viewer of that event who happens to also be a bisexual, woman of color with a disability.
I was unhappily not surprised that there were only two people with disabilities (PWD), or at least identifiable ones, at the whole convention. This is despite the fact that I scanned those crowds repeatedly. One was an elderly man in a very old-fashioned manual chair who the camera panned to when Rick Santorum was speaking. The other was Ann Romney, the candidate’s wife, who is both a breast cancer survivor and person with multiple sclerosis. I also noted that there were very few brown faces in the crowd or on the podium. There were no openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people. There were plenty of women which I appreciated. However, there were very few people of simultaneous, marginalized identities like me.
I was impressed with Ann Romney’s speech; although her family’s obvious wealth came into play. I don’t feel like she understood how her life would’ve been different if she didn’t have enough money to go to doctor after doctor and try treatment after treatment until she found thr ones worked best to manage her disability.
Rick Santorum’s speech was offensive to me. While it was clear to the in person and televised audience that he was an adoring dad to his daughter with a disability, as a now adult child of an equally adoring mom and stepdad, I cringed at phrases like “Bella’s hands were just a little different and I knew different wasn’t good news.” In my own life phrases like that had been said about me, frequently when the adults uttering them had thought I was out of ear shot or too young to comprehend. Comments like that had filled my childhood and early teen years with a very unhealthy dose of internalized ableism. I hope Bella is blessed, as I was, to find her own place in the disability community, surrounded by mentors who will help her unlearn the mentally unhealthy patterns that develop from overhearing that sort of thing daily, monthly, and yearly.
The second thing I disliked about Santorum’s speech was that he referred to the hands of PWD as “little” and “broken”. As a wheelchair user, I don’t view my hands that way. They hold me up in bathrooms. Let me drive my wheelchair, feed myself, and earn a living.
I was patently outraged by Paul Ryan’s speech. “If you’re feeling left out or passed by, you have not failed. Your leaders have failed you.” I agree Mr. Ryan, but wonder how the author of the decidedly disability and low income unfriendly Ryan Plan can dare say so in public. What about the people who languish for years in institutions waiting for community based services that will never come to liberate them if you are elected, even though such services are cheaper than undesired institutions? What about the people who are gainfully employed helping those people live the life they desire?
I thought you were pro-jobs? How does separating me from mine, because I can’t imagine there would be terribly much to write about in a nursing home, as well as my employees from theirs support this ideology?
He also invoked memories of his low income student days when he did many low wage jobs like lawn mowing. He recalled that time as being a place “where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happiness for myself. That’s what we do in this country. That’s the American dream. That’s freedom. And I’ll take it any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.” Once again, Mr. Ryan you have my total support. I guess that means you’ll be removing the ban on same sex marriage (an issue that affects more PWD than you’d like to admit) and the penalty that causes many PWD to forgo marriage because they can’t afford the decrease in their monetary benefits or Medicaid that will result from their getting married. These two changes will allow many more people to define happiness for themselves.
Lastly, Mr. Ryan I wholeheartedly support your statement that the “truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” If this truly reflects your values why would you propose the horrendous Ryan budget plan which issues Medicaid funding to states in the form of block grants and provides no additional funding for the so-called “optional” services that enable many individuals within the disability community to live independently. Mr. Ryan, all your proposal will do is increase the number of PWD who must reside in nursing homes against their will because nursing homes are an entitlement and community-based services are not.
You continue to attack programs such as the Affordable Care Act, food stamps, and other entitlements which enable Americans to combat this difficult economy. Indeed, Newt Gingrich called President Obama a “socialist” on CNN during your convention.
If caring about the welfare of your fellow Americans makes you a socialist than I am one, too. By the sane definition, so was Jesus Christ. All the same, person after person kept invoking His name in Tampa.
The last person whose remarks I choose to take issue with is Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee himself. I do not take issue with his remarks at the convention particularly as a PWD, but as a general planetary citizen. I’m curious as to why “our renewables” were last on Mr. Romney’s list of possible energy sources. Furthermore, why is paraphrasing President’s Obama’s 2008 promise that this is “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet begin to heal.” a source of amusement? Global warming is many things, funny is not one of them. Secondly, why does the nominee apparently believe that helping the environment is mutually exclusive from helping Americans and their families regain a more secure economic footing. For the sake of both my country and my planet, I hope he’s wrong.
I wouldn’t presume to tell another American how to vote. That’s unpatriotic. The purpose of this column is to make my readers aware of things they may have missed during the Republican National Convention. Granted, they are the moments of note for me which differ from person to person. Nonetheless, I hope that this gives readers insight into what the Republicans are saying about not only the disability community, but our nation and our planet as a whole.