I’ve long been of the opinion, in all seriousness, that Republicans have it in for the disabled. First there is their positioning regarding discrimination against people with disabiilties in the workplace (President Bush, for instance, has repeatedly appointed judges who are extraordinarily hostile to discrimination claims). Then there is their desire to eviscerate social insurance programs that support people with disabilities, like Social Security, and recently there has been their opposition to funding for potentially life-improving stem cell research.
My suspicions have now been confirmed, at least in the case of one Congresswoman, Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-WY). As pointed out yesterday on Midterm Madness, Cubin’s Libertarian challenger, Thomas Rankin, says she approached him after a campaign debate on Sunday and said, “If you weren’t sitting in that chair, I’d slap you across the face.” What chair she was referring to? The electric wheelchair that Rankin, who has multiple sclerosis, gets around in, when he isn’t working from home in a hospital bed.
The thing is, while I don’t know the details of Rankin’s views on these topics—his platform doesn’t directly address them—he sounds like a pretty straight-up, across-the-board libertarian. Which means, presumably, that he also opposes workplace discrimination laws as interference with private rights of association, opposes Social Security, and opposes government funding for medical research, though his plank objection to political interference with FDA decisions suggests that (like me) he’s probably of the view that if we’re going to have such funding, it should be disbursed in as neutral a way as possible, not constrained or skewed by sectarian theological taboos.
So, in the likely event that Rankin does hold these views… are we supposed to infer that he “has it in for” himself?
Update: Ben Adler responds that he actually did the journalist-y thing here and picked up the phone to check on Rankin’s views. As it turns out, he’s in favor of anti-discrimination laws. It’s less clear exactly what his position on government-funded medical research and Social Security is: He apparently thinks government shouldn’t be involved in either ideally, but given that both are entrenched doesn’t want to do away with either anytime soon. (I should probably note that these are perfectly coherent sorts of positions for a libertarian to have, in my view: There are various things I don’t think government ought to be doing, and that I’d like to phase out at some point, but would be wary of just abolishing overnight in light of the disruption it would cause in many cases.)
But if he did have some more extreme version of the positions I imagined, Adler says he certainly would “have it in for” himself, because “belonging to a group does not mean that you get some sort of free pass for taking actions that are hostile to its needs.” But I’m not sure this is to the point, which I took to be about motivation. That is to say, it just seems silly to describe opposition to some program intended to benefit group X as “having it in for” group X. There are plenty of reasons to be against laws or programs that benefit specific groups which just have nothing to do with one’s attitude toward that group.
I suppose Ben could always borrow a page from the hawks who tarred their opponents in the run up to the Iraq war as “objectively pro-Saddam” and argue that libertarians are “objectively anti-disabled” even if “subjectively” they like disabled people just fine. But it doesn’t seem like a terribly useful way to frame things.