The Republican Nominee for Vice President made a pledge the other day to be a high-placed advocate for special needs children. She further pledged to help increase funding for the education of special needs children if elected. There is a good chance that Sara Palin might actually be serious about this. Her youngest child Trig has Down’s syndrome. In another respect Palin follows a grand tradition of shameless pandering. Championing the cause of special needs children is part of the traditional boilerplate of supporting motherhood,
What gets ignored is that special needs children eventually become special needs adults. A child with moderate to sever Autism eventually becomes an adult with moderate to sever Autism. The need for monitoring and supervising the individual does not magically evaporate on their 21st birthday. One person who is intimately familiar with this situation is Pamela Merritt who blogs under the nom de guerre of “
$11 million reduction in funding for services for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities” has been stripped away. That was part of a $1 billion dollar cut in social services that
The stark Social Darwinism practiced by the budget cutters is on full display if one bothers to look. As Ms. Merritt points out the fat has long been cut out of programs for special needs adults. We are only a few short steps away from the old Spartan tradition of leaving the “defective” children to die on the mountain. Palin supporters show absolutely no compunction in declaiming loudly how they do not want their tax dollars spent on “undeserving” people. They despise the very notion of social services feeling that monies are doled out to shiftless, lazy reprobates who are unwilling to work. The mindless viciousness of this attitude not only betrays a rank racism (come on good children, just guess what color that mythical “Welfare Queen” is?) but a total cluelessness on how truly desperate the lives are of people on the dole. No, the “Good Christians” who support Sara Palin because she is “filled with the Holy Spirit” have little time or compunction to help the least amongst us. And God help the “invisible class,” those deeply screwed people who have too much income to qualify as “poor” but not enough money to have any comfort in their lives. Theirs is a life of “quiet desperation” one medical bill, one lay-off away from total collapse. For them there is no safety net to speak of.
There is a cruel consistency in Palin’s Christianist mind set. There is no real interest in the disadvantaged as flesh and blood people. No, they are at best set dressing for the larger Passion play. They are props in a moral drama. They are the wheel-chair bound bit players, the extras, in the drama put on by the Armani-Clad, helmet-haired preachers to the assembled masses in their Mega Churches. Once the Preacher has performed his set piece for the edification of the T.V. viewing audience, s/he has no further use for the cute little mite in the wheel chair in the front row. Since autism seems to be resistant to the healing power of the Holy Spirit, since it refuses to respond to the “demon be gone” treatment program, there is little that can be done by people like Pastor Muthe. It is best to sweep that inconvenient truth under the rug. Instead Palin will wave around cute little Trig like a magical amulet; yet another bright shiny object to distract the masses from the awful reality of Republican, every man (or woman) for him (or herself) philosophy. Of course Palin being Palin she up the ante by tossing in the non-sequitur of homeschooling.
There is no subset of children more in need of public assistance and support, the professional help of trained educators, than special needs children. To farm these children out to private Christianist schools is beyond cruel. To leave them in the care of their overburdened, untrained parents is a recipe for disaster. Trained educators with years of training are often overwhelmed and yes burned out by the demands of special needs children. To hope that a parent armed only with a King James Bible and prayer can somehow succeed where dedicated professionals struggle is well beyond the bounds of reason. The bit about “home schooling” was nothing more that a dog-whistle to Palin’s Christianist core supporters.
Simple Sara was not the least bit serious about home schooling, at least for herself. Little Trig is not going to be home schooled in any sense of term that matters. He might go to a private school, but it will be the type of school well beyond the means of Sara’s supporters even after she tosses them the small pittance labeled as “vouchers” by the Republicans. And when Trig grows into adulthood he will enjoy a support system that regular working Americans could only dream about. Not for Trig the vagaries of the public safety net, no he will get all the advantages that a women of power and riches can give.
Meanwhile the average parent of special needs children will continue to worry about their offspring’s future. They will have to contend with those special needs for the rest of their lives and worry about what happens to their scions when they, the parents, are no longer around. The question avoided by McCain and Palin is what happens to Bill Merritt if his family looses the means to support him? Who will help Bill the next time he decides to jump out of a moving vehicle? Who besides Pamela Merritt and her immediate family are Bill’s keepers?