More presidential autism politics

23 Oct

I don’t know how things work in the U.K., but in the U.S. there is a long tradition of giving the Vice President a special role. The VP gets to say the the controversial things the president wants to try as a “Trial Balloon”.

You see, people in America vote against candidates as much or more as the vote for candidates. Every time a candidate opens his or her mouth with a clear statement, he turns some people off. If Candidate X says, “I’m all for fresh tomatoes” the people whose lives revolve around canned tomatoes immediately want to vote for Candidate Y. (to use a silly example).

The reverse doesn’t work. Candidate X may not really collect as many “Fresh Tomato” voters as he lost other voters.

Take a look at the early polls for any office. Often you will see something like, “Well, if McCain runs against Clinton, he is shown to lead by 5%, but against an un-named democrat, he would lose by 5%”.

American’s love hypothetical “un-named” candidates. We don’t have anything to hate.

That’s where the VP comes in. The VP can say the more controversial things. Americans who like the idea will say, “Dang, that team is doing what I want!”. Conversely, others will say, “Well, I hate the VP, but I vote for the president”.

See how that works?

Well, I bet you know that I’m getting around to the McCain/Autism question. Since the debate, he’s pushed the idea more. The title of a recent interview with the VP candidate Sara Palin tells a lot: Palin advocates for children with autism, no plan specifics.

Ms. Palin addressed issues brought up by Mr. Obama in the recent debate: how to fund autism research and have an across the board spending freeze. Ms. Palin noted:

“We want to give every child a chance,” Palin told News 4’s Shelby Sheehan in an exclusive interview during a campaign stop in Reno on Tuesday.

Palin’s running mate John McCain said in the third and final presidential debate, “We must find out the cause of autism and help those families dealing with autism.” McCain also promised to freeze all unnecessary spending in the federal budget.

Palin says it’s possible to do both.

For the moment, let’s compare this to what Mr. McCain said at the debate:

OK, what — what would I cut? I would have, first of all, across-the-board spending freeze, OK? Some people say that’s a hatchet. That’s a hatchet, and then I would get out a scalpel, OK?

Notice that the current statement is “unnecessary” spending now, but it was all spending a week ago?

Also in the debate, Mr. McCain said:

The mayor of New York, Mayor Bloomberg, just imposed an across- the-board spending freeze on New York City. They’re doing it all over America because they have to. Because they have to balance their budgets. I will balance our budgets and I will get them and I will…

So, a few days ago, it was an across-the-board spending freeze, with extra cuts via scalpel. Now, autism is going to get extra funding by diverting funds cut from other programs.

“There are a lot of wasteful expenditures in the federal (government),” Palin said. “Let’s get rid of those and put them into strengthening NIH (National Institutes of Health) and these other areas where we can help our kids with autism.”

Palin did not name any specific expenditure she wanted to cut in favor of funding for autism research or services, nor did she name what specific programs she’d like to fund in order to help those families.

That sounds good. But, that is a VP message and it doesn’t have any firm commitments.

The McCain campaign also talked about autism in an interview on FoxNews. The interview was with Cindy McCain, John McCain’s wife (and potential first lady). She noted:

…you know, obviously, autism has been on his agenda for a while.

But, again, not much of a commitment. And, it’s too similar to a VP comment.

Well, if these are trial balloons–here’s a respnse: Mr. McCain, I think it’s great that you have autism on your agenda. Either as president or as a senator, you will be in a great position to really help out. But, when I search your website for “autism” I get one hit:

Need to find out what the cause of autism is. We have to put a brake on increasing incidence of autism in America. That has to be highest priority. This will place a very dramatically increased burden on special education programs. I would fully fund special education program but also make sure teachers don’t just put discipline problems in those programs, that screening is a little more conscientious.

Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen more on your site in the past–I need to look harder. But it wasn’t much.

I like the suggestion above that you will fully fund special ed. Does this mean having the Federal Government fully fund IDEA? Because, that would be an increase in spending. An increase in spending to finally reach the level promised to special ed kids for decades, but an increase in budget terms.

That statement was a little too vague, and you made it before the “spending freeze” idea was a big part of your plan.

I guess what I’m saying here is: I want you, Presidential Candidate John McCain, to say, “I will support an increase in IDEA spending to match the commitment we have made as a people”. I’d like it if you said that would be a priority even if you remain a senator.

You see, I’ve been to enough IEP meetings to understand what a measurable goal is. I realize the difference between a vague commitment and hard goal.

I want something I can quote and fax and email to your office (be it White House or Senate) and say, “what is happening with this?”

I am not a one-issue voter. But, this is an issue I am watching closely. How it is handled will tell a lot about the type of President you might be. A candidate who offers vague promises is not what I want, on any issue.

As I said, I found scant information on autism on your website. Here are links from Mr. Obama’s website:

Here’s a statement on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Yes, I want Senator Obama to tighten up this language:

Obama is a strong supporter of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and supports full federal funding of the law to truly ensure that no child is left behind.

Luckily, elsewhere on his website, he says,

They will fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to ensure that no child with ASD or any other disability is left behind.

And also,

President Obama will fully fund the Combating Autism Act

Those are real statements. They are something measurable. They call out the specific projects by real name and they don’t just “support”, they say “fully fund”.

I will ad that I like the fact that autism isn’t a single issue to Mr. Obama’s campaign. It is part of a broader policy on disabilities.

Now, I am old enough to know that promises made and promises kept are different things entirely. But, as I’ve said above, when I call your office in a year, I’d like to have something substantial to quote to hold you accountable. I don’t want to call and have this conversation:

Sullivan: You said you’d support funding IDEA.
President McCain’s staffer: Of course we support that!

So, a few suggestions (for both sides).

1) Make real commitments
2) Have the presidential candidate say them (not the VP, not a spouse)

but, mostly

3) Follow through.

We as a community have seen promises un-kept since long before I was a member. Don’t promise what you can’t keep. Not to us. Tell the trial lawyers, the oil companies, other groups things that you may or may not be able to actually accomplish. Don’t do that to people with disabilities.

8 Responses to “More presidential autism politics”

  1. Navi October 23, 2008 at 02:39 #

    hmmm…. would my daughter be considered a discipline problem, because, you, know, she’s academically advanced and passes those standardized tests with flying colors….

  2. dkmnow October 23, 2008 at 05:38 #

    McCain will cure autism (and everything else) by means of compulsory military service.

    Palin will have her friend, Rev. Thomas Muthee, cure us all by shielding us from witches and cleansing us of python spirits.

    Only communists and terrorist sympathizers would object to that.

  3. Rob A October 23, 2008 at 14:33 #

    I don’t know how things work in the U.K., but in the U.S. there is a long tradition of giving the Vice President a special role.

    In the UK, we give the son of the monarch (a kind of Vice Monarch) the title, The Prince of Wales. His special role is to champion religious beliefs and alternative therapies to his mother’s loyal subjects. At least, that’s what the current one does.

  4. Joseph October 23, 2008 at 14:58 #

    The special education population in the US is essentially stable, if you look at cohorts above the age of 7 or 8 (so earlier diagnosis is not a factor). I don’t think the McCain campaign is very well informed about this. There’s no reason to fear the supposedly “increasing incidence” of autism.

  5. Patrick October 23, 2008 at 16:29 #

    “There are a lot of wasteful expenditures in the federal (government),” like giving out money for a bridge that gets re-appropriated for other purposes perhaps?

  6. Chris October 23, 2008 at 22:09 #

    I think there is something to be said in that autism is now a topic under review for our presidential elections. It is something that has been on the radar for quite some time now, however, clearly not it is being seen as a serious aspect of life in our country. Therefore, the simple fact that both candidates are touching upon this topic shows that we as a country are moving in the right direction. We are on our way to giving this disorder the attention and focus it deserves.

  7. Sullivan October 24, 2008 at 00:20 #

    I think there is something to be said in that autism is now a topic under review for our presidential elections.

    I think it’s great. I would like to make sure that they offer something real rather than vague offers of support, though.


  1. Autism Blog - More presidential autism politics II | Left Brain/Right Brain - October 30, 2008

    […] Recently, I noted that the McCain/Palin ticket’s statements were not strong commitments, but more general statements of support. Since that time, Governor Paling has come out with some stronger statements. […]

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