Becky Blitch

Becky Blitch
Largo, Florida, USA
June 02
Certified Life Coach
Coach, writer, policy consultant, educator, & public speaker. No longer actively updating this blog. Please see links for current info!


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Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 24, 2008 10:46AM

Sarah Palin’s “Special Needs Children” Policy Address

Rate: 35 Flag

As you know, when Sarah Palin first came onto the national stage, I was highly critical of what I perceived to be pandering to the disability community in light of the complete vacuum of policy proposals in this area by her running mate.

This morning, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate gave her first major policy address, and it focused on the issues facing families of children with special needs.

After listening to the speech, I feel it's necessary to revise and renew my criticism of the ticket.

To begin, I loudly and heartily commend Gov. Palin for bringing the national spotlight to this issue. We need all the help we can get.

Generally, within the relatively narrow scope of the speech, the specific policies offered were spot-on. Specifically, the emphasis on fully funding the IDEA and reforming Voc Rehab is welcomed. (Although how, exactly, that squares with Sen. McCain's call for a spending freeze is unclear.)

With that said, both the content and the general tone of the speech infuriated me.

First, by going off on impassioned tangents about earmarks and Obama's tax plan, Gov. Palin gave the impression that this speech was merely cover for stump-speech attacks, belittling the importance of the topic at hand.

Second, it's worth noting that absolutely no new territory regarding disability policy was covered in this speech. Given its length, there was very little red meat. In fact, at the beginning, Gov. Palin said she'd be offering three specific policy points, but after watching the speech a second time, I'm still unclear as to what those points were.

Third, while I absolutely agree and understand that changes need to be made for children with disabilities, we must remember that those children do, in fact, grow up. There are millions of adults with disabilities in this country (many of whom acquired disability after childhood, including thousands of veterans), and we are all too often left out in the cold. Sarah Palin said that she and John McCain would support finding ways for adults with disabilities to live independently, but McCain has rejected the Community Choice Act, which would do precisely that.

Fourth, Palin's speech did little to honor the dignity of people with disabilities. We in the disability rights movement have been fighting for decades to be seen and treated as full human beings; we have fought to make people understand that just because we have unconventional bodies, we are essentially—in the things that matter—just like everyone else. Palin, however, pushed the human-interest angle, gushing about how "blessed" families are to have such "special" children. The "Inspirational Gimp" and the "Blessed Gimp" are stereotypes whose time is long gone, thankfully. But Sarah Palin seems determined to resurrect them.

I could go on at length about the very necessary policies and programs Palin could should have endorsed while she had the spotlight on this issue: Respite services for caregivers. Health care reform. Stem cell research. Medicaid reform around durable medical equipment. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Supreme Court decisions that decimated the ADA. And on and on and on …

Let's face it: John McCain and Sarah Palin are losing this election. The governor could have used this moment to "pull a Bullworth" and make some bold statements about where this country really needs to go in terms of disability policy. She didn't. She stuck to a couple politically safe proposals, she attacked Barack Obama, and she got misty-eyed over the special-ness of special needs kids.

That, my friends, is called pandering. Nothing new about it.

Read Barack Obama's policy proposals for disability rights issues.


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Thanks for this. It seems to be their m.o. to not ever actually mention anything that they want to do. Their "policies" are empty blanket statements and basic common sense. And they sneak in, at any opportunity, something completely random like taxes or 9/11.

I wrote about their policies for farmers and ranchers in my blog and we both came away with very similar questions on very different topics - as basic as "What is it you plan to do again?"

Here's my post:

These issues are so important to millions of actual people and we need as many people as possible to realize that McCain/Palin have no intention of putting any of it at the top of their list. It honestly makes me feel like an afterthought.

Thanks again!
This reminds me of how Republicans get all excited about funding mental health treatment whenever their own family members are struck.

Or how Laura Ingraham had to revise her anti-AIDS treatment view when she learned her brother had the disease.

I welcome the spotlight, and like you say, would be grateful for any small bone tossed the way of those who really need it, but I'm afraid this will soon be forgotten and the Republicans can go back to explaining how those with disabilities are the greatest Americans since they overcome so much with so little.

Thanks, a-holes, but a little help would be nice.
How similar this is to McCain's lip service to Veteran's issues. People assume because he is a decorated veteran he would be an effective champion of their issues. However just like Palin he just uses this as pandering pulpit.
Standard fare - lip service and generalities, but nothing specific. That has been the tenor of the entire campaign for John and Sarah.

I would have thought that, as the mother of a special needs child, she'd be better acquainted with what families really need. Instead, she seems better acquainted with what her downward-spiraling popularity really needs; something shiny to distract the ADD voters with.

Go figure.

Maybe I'm off here, but it seems to me that the overarching social and economic philosophy of the conservative movement rules out all but token gestures, whether of policy or sentiment, toward those with disabilities. Accordingly, until moderates are able to reclaim a place at the table in the G.O.P., there is little hope of any real help coming from that quarter.
Nice summary and analysis. I am sort of shocked that Palin would do the misty "specialness of special needs kids" schtick given her child - to speak that way seems to suggest she doesn't see her child as a fully individual and authentic person in his own right, but merely an accessory to herself and her family designed to help her define herself to the rest of us. I wonder if this is how she really feels, or if she's just not thinking, focused overmuch on the unattractive task at hand (to use all openings to bulldoze through Obama's lead). Either way it's appalling.
Thanks for a great post. Republicans don't talk about adults with disabilities because adults are more difficult than children to objectify as cute. Adults have complex lives with complex needs. If you start talking about that, watch out! Pandering is what they do - let's not forget her "I have gay friends" comment at the VP debate. Yeah, gay friends whose rights you don't support.
I haven't heard anything concrete come out of McPalin's mouths in weeks. And furthermore I think Ms. Palin uses her son's disability as a tool to bolster her image. Adults with disabilities in this country have not been served well and there seems to be nothing that these candidates want to do about it. Thanks for bring this issue to the forefront and the front page.
Nice post -- thanks for the very reasonable review. I didn't hear her speech and I'm glad to learn about it. I think it's ridiculous that just because SP had a special needs baby a few months ago, she is touted by the campaign as an authority. Of course we can all be authorities, but let's not assume that she is such a great leader on this subject until she demonstrates some thought and understanding.
I still say that way Palin uses Trig borders on child abuse. She sees his disability as a political prop and nothing more.

Calling a debilitating condition a "gift from God" is an insult to those with special needs, to those parents who have children with special needs and to God. The God I believe in doesn't give give gag gifts.

I know how that sounds, but I am speaking as the parent of two special needs children. To suggest that my daughter's autism is a "gift from God" is insulting. It is a heavy burden for her and the rest of the family. I love my children as they are, but I mourn the loss of what could have been. My daughter will never be able to be independent and I hate it for her. I will happily devote the rest of my life to giving her the happiest life she can have, but I will always carry a trace of bitterness over what she was denied in life.

Palin's opposition to stem cell research makes her completely unqualified to be a spokesperson for people with Down's or autism, as does her use of her son as a prop to further her personal ambitions. She is shameless and the claim that she is a "special needs expert" is even more dubious than the claim that she is an "energy expert."
Thanks, Becky.
Too little, and much too late.
I just posted about the same thing. Oops! Our reactions to her speech today are practically identical! To acommodate Sarah Palin's initiatives for special education the rules would have to be rewritten ... Even the person in charge of the US Senate has a zero-chance of making that happen because the states simply can't afford the upkeep of No Child Left Behind and the cash injection that it would take to apply the rules we have now, much less offer school choice (public OR private) and change "free and appropriate" to BEST. I thought that her words were hollow and insensitive and uneducated and ... well, you said it ... PANDERING!

I said the last time this issue arose, on this very page, that Palin was using her child as a political prop and that as the father of an autistic child, I was not only offended but disgusted by it. But the comment that such disabilities should be regarded as gifts from God is truly nauseating. I think of my only son as a gift from God, to be sure. The best gift I have ever received. But the condition of autism itself? To whom is that a gift? Certainly not to the child struggling with the condition, that's for sure. And exactly how does treating autism or downs as a "gift" help convince people that more help, more funding, more research is needed? If this is to be our friend in Washington, God help us indeed.
I have a keen interest in programs for special needs children. My three-year old granddaughter has autism and requires a great deal of help. In the area of autism, I got in and did some research on the two candidates to see where they stand.
John McCain had once mentioned autism and thimerosal in a speech, but seemed to quickly back-track after realizing it was a political hot potato. I couldn't really find any pro-active things McCain had done.
Sen. Obama however, I discovered has been involed in helping families and children with autism since back in his Chicago days. (You can see his record on the issue and what he proposes to do for our kids here: in case anyone is interested. I liked Obama to begin with, but this really secured my vote. TALK from politicians no longer impresses me. I now say show me, what have you DONE to back up what you say? Personally I was offended that John McCain didn't seem to know the difference between Down's Syndrome, which Sarah Palin's baby has, from autism. He kept referring to them as if they were one in the same. Didn't leave me with much hope there.
To all of you who have commented on this piece: thank you.

The more I think about this whole thing, the angrier I get. But knowing that people see through Palin's act is a balm.

I suspect that, should the media give this much attention, the whole thing will backfire. It might win a few sympathy votes from folks lucky enough not to be touched by disability, but those votes will be offset by those very people she was trying to reach, because we know when we're being pandered to.

One thing that strikes me as interesting is the parallel between McCain's treatment of this issue with his pick of Palin herself. In both cases, there seems to be an assumption that the people being targeted (people with disabilities and their families; women) will be so excited to get a small bone thrown their way that they won't look any deeper. It's insulting, really.

I apologize for my disjointedness this evening... it's been a high pain day, so I'm a bit loopy on meds.

But I did want to acknowledge all of you for your support, and to tell those of you who are affected by disability: hang in there. Better days ahead. :)
Great post, Becky. My son is visually and hearing impaired. He reads Braille and uses hearing aids. We have him involved in a Boy Scout troop for boys with special needs. Many of the parents in the troop felt insulted by Palin claiming to understand what it's like to be a parent of a child with special needs. We felt like she hasn't even gotten her feet wet when it comes to raising her newborn with Downs. It is so hard to track down services and spend year after year fighting with the school systems and government agencies just to get mediocre services for your child. She has no idea what years of endless doctor's appointments, IEP meetings, and planning for that child's life as an adult can be like. After she has spent 12 or so years fighting the systems in place, then she can report back to us and tell us she can relate. Until then, she gets raspberries from me.

Thanks for your insightful post.
re: the media, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann had Richard Wolffe (who is remarkably measured and calm in contrast to KO) of Newsweek on tonight. They were less focused on the ridiculous money assertions than the absurdity of her mocking and denigration of the fruit-fly research that identified a genetic marker for autism. Wolffe said:

"...this is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed comment that we have seen from Governor Palin, and there has been a lot of competition for that prize. Fruit flies are...a standard scientific model in genetic research."

KO & Wolffe also discussed the spending freeze as virtually meaningless anyway.

From my personal perspective, the other galling thing is the use of special-needs families as a prop to push the vouchers agenda.

Thanks for bringing needed attention and perspective to these issues.
Great and thought provoking post. I do think you are right -- people are seeing through the Palin act. I am so ready for this election to be over, and hopefully she'll go back to Alaska and hopefully won't be heard from again. Sorry Alaskans.
Think Progress » Palin cut funding for Alaska Special Olympi...

The woman is clueless in what she is talking about. Most children w/special needs can certainly go to a private school if one so chooses. But, the problem w/that is there is no funding available to hire "TEACHER's" that have degree's in Special Education. Period! Private schooling does not provide that.

And, even if we did choose to send our children to a private school you better have an awful big bank acct, as most people cannot afford private schooling for their children.

Now to special olympics......

Did Sarah ever watch the joy on the faces of special needs children when competing in the special olympics? Doubt it! Well I did! My daughter is a triple x chromosome child. She is menatally retarded.
She won a bronze. It was the greatest joy for a parent w/a child who has special needs to witness. She cut the funding for special olympics.

It is in every parent's best interest to sit down w/the scientists once diagnosed prior to the childs birth so as to have a complete understanding of what your child's needs will be. It is imperative that we do that!

I just don't have the greatest respect or appreciation for her as an advocate for my child. And, I don't really appreciate the way Trig is bounced all over the place. Exposing him to screaming lunatic crowds of 5, 10, 20,000 people. For God's sake, the kid has enough problem's. Where is her moral compass on that?

I do not question her love for her child in no way, shape, or form. I question her understanding. The lioness protects her cubs at every cost. That's the way I see it.
Guess you have to say something to get everyones attention off spending $150,000 on clothing.

And that McCain worker who lied about being attacked by an Obama voter.

And Joe McCain calling 911 today to complain about heavy traffic, telling the operator to F--- off and then calling 911 again! This, the same man who called Virginians Communists.

And the fact you paid your hairdresser $22,000 in two weeks.

All of this just today in the news!!

Excellent point, Scurffus. Trig is only six months old, so Ms. Palin hasn't had to deal with many of the challenges he and the family will face as he grows up.

And excellent post, Becky.

I am not yet a parent, but am a volunteer coach with a baseball program for special needs kids.

It has been my privilege to watch the kids grow over the tens years I have been with the program, and seeing them graduate high school, and get jobs, and acheive other goals.

One of our players just got her own apartment!

And I've heard the stories of battles with school boards, legal battles, and just plain ignorant teachers and school staff. For example, the local school district would not even help us publicize the program.

One of the families' legal case got national attention:

In another family, the father went to law school to become a lawyer to advocate for other special needs children.

Trig has become a political prop, shuttled around the country as an accessory to Mommy's new Neiman Marcus-enhanced image, and perhaps for sympathy from the sort of folks who spew that "special blessing" malarkey.
Otherwise, voters might notice that she has more ambition than know-how (oops most of us have already figured that out!).

The best thing for Trig is for Mommy to go back to Alaska as an obscure and quirky footnote to history.

And I'm happy to do my part to help make that happen.
MSNBC this evening criticized Palin for disparaging of fruit fly studies, which actually have led to advances in the understanding of autism.
Once again, we see Palin's skin-deep research and understanding of an issue she purports to tackle.

One would think any discussion of disabilities would include discussion of the Community Choice Act.

Thank you for your well-thought-out piece.
Well said, Becky. Please add my congrats and thanks.

Great post, Becky! I heartily agree with the pick of your well-written and heartfelt post for the cover. This is an important topic.

Since Reagan, the repugnicans have been dismantling entitlement programs--except for those for the wealthy and well connencted. In our society, the poor (which the disabled are in most cases) are invisible, so they rest assured that no one will notice.

The good news is that advances in vocational rehabilitation services have always been driven by our soldiers returning from war. (Soldiers being the equivalent "cute" of disabled children--forget the civilian adults..) Right now, half of my class of 18 would-be voc rehab counselors is focused on working with veterans. After the election, the iron will be hot to do something about this weighty issue. We are hopeful.

Thank you, Becky, and hope you have a better day today.

rated and vigorously supported!
I couldn't even bring myself to read about this speech until now. Having been someone with a disability and who will probably have one again (autoimmune diseases are fun!), I would have hoped that she would speak not only about aid to families, but much-needed changes in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

I am lucky. I am doing very well right now. But I remember a few years ago when I was visibly sick, and my secretary told me to wait until everyone left before I stood up after meetings so no one would see that it was a slow, painful process to do so. I should have fired her for that.
I figured republicans would want everyone to pull their own families up by their bootstraps no matter they "disability". I don't see how their position also aligns with not having healthcare for all children.
Thank You for the analysis. SP and her running mate are such hypocrits. Check this out regarding the Special Olympics:
Several news organizations, including the New York Times and NPR, have reported that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin cut the state's Special Olympics budget by $275,000 earlier this year. That's accurate, but it's not the whole story, and I've posted an update to reflect that.

According to, and verified by state documents, the Special Olympics sought $550,000 for the coming fiscal year. Palin used her line-item veto to cut that in half.

Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard gets carried away, describing the $550,000 as merely a number that was "proposed." In fact, it was approved by the state's Republican-controlled legislature, so Palin really went out of her way to make this cut.
. . . excerpt from comment by Dan Kennedy, September 18, 2008, Media Nation. For full text:
Sounded to me like code for their support for charter schools. They were just extending it to handicapped children in a belief that that will solve all their problems.. Little does She Who is Ignorant know that we have been fighting that sort of idea for decades. When I went to put my daughter in school they 'encouraged' me to put her someplace else, anywhere else, but not there, not where they would have to actually teach her. Two years later her class was down to two children because parents had gotten the message that their children were not welcome and would not be taught in that school. So they voted with their feet and went elsewhere. This 'support' of Palin's is just more of the same.
Thank for for telling it like it is. I suspected the same thing, but not having special needs or a child that has such, It is not for me to say. Thank you for this piece.
I'm still not entirely convinced by Palin's appearances with her baby son while out campaigning.

He seems to be wheeled-out and used like a prop in most cases. Those of us with a child the same age wouldn't dream of taking him 'to work' with us.

Excellent post.

Read "McCain: The Party's Over.." here for more on the Republican scapegoat strategy:
@Soubriquet (and others)
re: Trig as a prop

I could not agree more. I saw a short clip on MSNBC of her walking on stage at a rally, holding him casually with one arm while doing the pageant wave with the other, and it literally made me sick.

There is absolutely *no* logical reason to carry the baby the 50 feet or so from the holding area to the podium (where he's promptly handed off). None.


She reminds me of that girl in high school who got a fancy car and made a point of always having her keys out on display, even during a math test or something.
I really appreciated this. As the periodic caregiver to someone who is quadraplegic I often think of how underserved disabled people are. Thank you for shedding light and clarity on these issues through your assessment of Palin's speech.
Palins "speech" on children with disabilites was a joke. When she cut the Special Olympics budget in Alaska by half and special ed, who does she think she's talking to?
Keith Olbermann has sent more money to the S.O. than I'm sure Palin has donated.
She is absolutely disgusting, and I'm only to happy to wish her everything she has wished for the rest of us.