Sanders Comes Out for the Disabled

I’ve been a long-time advocate for people with disabilities.  I have a disability myself, as I suffer from depression (which is under control, thankfully).  My best friend and longtime musical collaborator, and associate editor of this site, Ken Downey, is blind.  I’ve developed the first system to transcribe a form of music theory called Schenkerian analysis into braille, and presented it at the national Society of Music Theory conference in 2013. Together we released a disability-themed album called Blasted Light, which raises awareness of the plight of the blind, along with a little-known disability called Meniere’s disease.  I designed a study that investigates the effects of music in rehabilitating Meniere’s disease, which I hope to undertake within the next year.  I’ve written academic articles about disability studies and music, including an analysis of Curtis Mayfield’s music after he became paralyzed with quadriplegia.  So I’ve been around the block on the disability studies front.

I have never in my life recalled a presidential candidate acknowledging people with disabilities having needs, and the unacceptability of their employment rate.  That is, until today.

I was not aware that in July, Senator Bernie Sanders came out to support people with disabilities.  The full transcript of his remarks can be read at the link.

One of the single most loathesome aspects of the Republican budgetary priorities is that they want to cut services for the disabled.  These are the people most vulnerable in our society who, through no fault of their own, require assistance.  Even the most hard-hearted libertarian cannot make an argument that people who were born blind or deaf should not have some form of public assistance.  A fetus cannot “lazy” its way into being blind.

Chances are, you will someday have a disability.  Everybody ages.  Our bodies deteriorate.  It is therefore incumbent on us all to treat people with disabilities with compassion and respect— not just in our daily lives, but as a matter of public policy.

Republicans will counter, but, alas, we cannot afford these extravagant services for the disabled.  We wish we could.  No, really.

Sure you can.  Tax the rich.  Make them pay their fair share.  And remember, you cannot argue that the disabled are undeserving, lazy moochers who simply refuse to work.  The disabled want to work, desperately.  But they face profound amounts of discrimination.  So we need to tax those corporations that are using our publicly funded roads, bridges, infrastructure, who rely upon we the people to coin the money they so desperately want to make, who rely upon public schools for an educated workforce, to give back a little.  Give back so that people who are born with devastating disadvantages can lead a life of simple dignity.

But the Republicans don’t want that.  They want to make sure that billionaires and trillionaires have all the yachts and houses they could possibly need.

Class warfare?  Damn straight.  Because there is no one more vulnerable in society than the disabled.  I refuse to live in a society where blind people have to panhandle on street corners.

Nevertheless, deep down, one suspects that the libertarian streak in the Republicans is that hard-hearted.  That while their reluctance to help able-bodied people through public assistance is marginally arguable, I cannot fathom an argument as to why society should not assist the disabled.  But the answer could be that the Republicans simply don’t care.  I got mine and screw the rest of you— deafblinds included.  Burn them for fuel.

I’ve come to understand libertarian orthodoxy in all its ugly, brutal glory over these years, but I’ve never understood an argument that would maintain that people who face profound physical and/or mental challenges should not be given help systematically by society.  Libertarian orthodoxy has always struck me as heartless and cruel, but cutting programs for the disabled in my view is especially odious.

Thankfully, we have Bernie Sanders fighting the good fight.  And I don’t see anyone else out there fighting it, either.  Even Jeb Bush, whose father signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law, has had nothing to say about the disabled.  My governor, Greg Abbott, who is in a wheelchair, has said or done precious little to help the disabled (indeed, our experience helping my blind best friend find aid in the state of Texas has been nothing short of a bureaucratic nightmare).

I knew I was backing the right candidate.

-Robert Gross

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