Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Weird Balancing Act

Here's the thing: I think political families should be off-limits when it comes to political campaigns. Cindy McCain's past problems, McCain's adopted daughter, Palin's 5 children -one pregnant, one with Down's Syndrome- Obama's children, none of those things should matter. We shouldn't scoff at Palin or utilize her daughter for political points. We shouldn't point and laugh at how the woman with an abstinence only agenda has a pregnant teenage daughter. Why? Because of Ron Reagan Jr. Seriously. Ronald Reagan Jr. is my reasoning. The first time I saw Ron Reagan, he was scoffing at conservative policies in the 1980s in regards to the AIDs epidemic. It was one of VH1's specials, one of their Behind the Musics; one of the year ones. Here was a man who derided Ronald Reagan Sr.'s policies, deriding the policies of the day that didn't work to save druggies and homosexuals because those were not Republican voting blocks. I thought, "Man, this guy really hates the Reagans". But that guy was a Reagan. He just happened to also be liberal. The chances of Bristol being liberal are probably slim, but that doesn't mean that she should be held up as political fodder. And that is partially because we don't know what happened, not exactly. We know the result. We know that she is pregnant. But we don't know if she used protection or if she was truly a victim of abstinence only education. We don't know if she was a student of abstinence only education. What's more, we don't have the right to know; we don't have the right to violate her privacy in order to score some cheap political point against her mother. And more than that, her decisions are not her mother's.

So Sarah Palin's viewpoints about abstinence only education, about teaching creationism in schools, her ideas about the environment, her anti-choice rhetoric, should be attacked. The weaknesses should be present (and are present) in Sarah Palin's own arguments. We can point out the flaws in abstinence only education through studies and statistics; we should be doing that anyway, and often. We can argue that creationism isn't simply a divergent view of how the planet and life got started but a religious one; and how if we grant that creationism should be taught in classrooms as an alternative theory, than every other religion's creationist tale should also be taught because Christianity doesn't get to corner the market on religious rights. We should argue that, and we should argue against the dismissive phrase that evolution is "just" a theory, because most things we accept as scientific truths are theories. It is part of the language of science. We should argue against creationism based on the fact that it is no more or less true than the Iroquois' creation myths. But we shouldn't use her family as a battering ram against her. But the truth is, it shouldn't go the other way either, with conservatives using her family in order to score some ideological point.

A lot of reports I've seen have talked about Trig, her child with Down Syndrome, as a kind of political checkmate. "Sarah Palin is so pro-life, she carried her child to term even knowing that he had Down Syndrome" seems to be the overwhelming viewpoint. And first and foremost, that is an incredibly ableist mindset, the idea that Sarah Palin and her family is so noble and self-sacrificing for "burdening" themselves with a special needs child; that a pro-choicer would have obviously made a different choice. Phyllis Schlafly made that exact argument, that a Democrat would have chosen to abort. The truth is, special needs children come with their own joys and challenges. The truth is, I know many liberal-minded people who have special needs children. The truth is, using Trig as a political point in the choice wars, no matter who is doing it, is quite frankly appalling. He should not be some kind of political football. He is a baby, and he is one who is loved and whose mother (hopefully) carried him to term because she loved and wanted him no matter what; a mother who didn't carry him to term because she felt morally obligated to once she learned of his condition but because she wanted to without that even being a consideration. Because looking at Trig like a political point maker devalues special needs people and children in society.

That isn't to say that people don't abort children if and when they learn that the child is disabled in some way. I'm not even saying that they are wrong to; I think there are numerous situations where it is completely understandable, in terms of knowing that as a parent you do not have the resources to care for this child in the way he or she will need you to; that you do not have the money to support them; that you have other children who have needs that will not be met if you have this child. It must be a terrible situation to find oneself in, to be carrying a child you wanted -maybe desperately- but cannot, for whatever the reason, carry to term. It must be a terrible feeling to not have the privilege Sarah Palin does in even being able to have five children and care for them all adequately. But for those who abort a special needs baby because that child isn't one who will be perfectly healthy and of average intelligence, I think the decision is a bit foolhardy. Because humans are fragile creatures. Helen Keller was a perfectly healthy baby. I worked with a woman whose daughter was involved in a horrible car accident, and who suffered some brain damage because of that. She was married at the time of the crash.  She's not any more, and she now cannot live alone. She was a healthy baby. 90% of fetuses who are diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. And one of the reasons is because we look at people with special needs with a certain type of prejudice. We call their families angels for having them; we call them angels too. We look at them with pity; we look at them with contempt. We look at ourselves and thank our lucky stars that we have healthy children with no developmental problems. And until that changes, until we stop devaluing them and seeing them as "less", then we will continue to see praise like the kind given to Sarah Palin for being so pro-life as to keep her son, a son she may have kept anyway -because she loves him.


MediaMaven said...

The fiction book I finished reading this weekend, The Cure for Modern Life, actually had the should-I-abort-my-possibly-Down-child as a plotline, and the main character was in fact a liberal (they made several mentions of her political affiliation throughout the story). A lot of the book actually dealt with bioethics. Now I'm eager to read more on the subject.

Also, Laura Bush has come out saying she doesn't think Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and Jenna has hinted that she's not planning to vote for McCain this election. So it's not that big of an anomaly to have presidential children differ in their viewpoints from their parents.

John said...

Denis Leary once said that "watching Ted Kennedy on television talking about John Towers' drinking problem is f-ing irony defined." Considering the sordid lives of nearly every politician, you would think they would agree to keep their personal lives off-limits. But it sells papers, so don't expect a change anytime soon.

I want Lovecraftian Creationism taught in public schools! Ia Ia Cthulhu Ftaghn! Right up there with the Invisible Pink Unicorn and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because one theory is as good as another, right?

As for the ablism, I don't think that Sarah Palin gets to play the card of "I'm such a saint, I have a downs syndrome baby when I could have aborted it!" if she doesn't believe in abortion. If you don't believe in murder, do you get special commendation for not killing the guy who cut you off on the way to work today?

mikhailbakunin said...

We can point out the flaws in abstinence only education through studies and statistics; we should be doing that anyway, and often.

There are some studies that suggest "comprehensive" sex education is more effective than abstinence-only education - and organizations like APA and AMA have been eager to tout these as definitive - but I really doubt the accuracy of the data. Critics have noted that, upon meta-analysis, the differences between the test groups and the control groups in these studies often fall within normal variance.

The only longitudinal study of abstinence-only education that I know of, which was published by Mathematica Policy Research in 2007 (and commissioned by Congress), found that abstinence programs have virtually the same results as "comprehensive" sex education programs. Neither is particularly successful.