Asking Hillary Clinton

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Andrew Pulrang

Two Saturdays ago, I decided to try and watch sailing at the Rio Olympics. Of course, I fell into a deep sleep. And just like the last time I had an unexpected snooze, I had a vivid dream. And just like last time, I dreamed of the Election, my mind conjuring up a chance to ask one of the Presidential candidates the questions about disability issues I really want them to answer.

This time, it was Hillary Clinton.

We were sitting on the deck of a sailboat, zigzagging around Guanabara Bay in Rio. We were obviously in an Olympic race, but it was hard to tell whether we were ahead, behind, or somewhere in between. A couple of women were feverishly working the things you work when you’re racing a sailboat, but they ignored us, and since we didn’t seem to have anything else to do, Secretary Clinton and I started talking about the election.

We broke the ice with some talk about the polls, and then I worked up the courage to ask Clinton some disability-related questions that had been burning a hole in my mind over the last several months. Clinton is famous for being a great one-on-one listener, and she certainly seemed to be. She was immediately friendly, and had no trouble answering my questions, sometimes in dizzying, even stupifying detail.

“Secretary Clinton …” I began.

“Call me Hillary!” she said.

“Um, okay …” I replied. “Hillary. You and the Democratic Party have recently gone out of your way to highlight your regard for the disability community. So, I’d like to dig deeper with some trickier questions about disability policy. I promise not to ask about your “damned emails.”

There was a pause, while Hillary checked her emails, on a rather quaint Blackberry. She sighed wearily, put it back into her pocket, looked me in the eye, and said, “Go ahead. Shoot.”

Here’s what I asked her:

  1. Would you support changes in Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare that increased the cost of those programs, but also resulted in more disabled people working, earning more money, and being able to save for the future?
  1. During your acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, you talked about your work with the Children’s Defense Fund, including gathering data that helped establish the first nation-wide right to public education for kids with disabilities. With that experience in mind, what do you think are the most significant barriers right now to kids with disabilities getting a high-quality education?
  1. Sometimes, policy priorities for the disability community conflict with those of other progressive groups. For instance:

– Public service and health care unions sometimes oppose shifting long term care funding towards more individualized home care models, and away from traditional institutions and nursing homes.

– You have said you support ending laws that allow some employers to pay some disabled people less than minimum wage. Disability activists mostly love this, but some families worry their disabled sons and daughters will be left without any job at all.

– Disability activists mostly oppose assisted suicide because we feel it sends a terrible message about living with disabilities, and undermines our struggle for the support systems we need to live. However, many progressives want it legalized and view it solely as an issue of personal choice.

How would you reconcile these clashing visions and objectives?

  1. Do you have definite plans to appoint people with disabilities to run Federal-level disability programs? Or, for that matter, do you have any thoughts on appointing disabled people to posts that aren’t directly related to disability issues?

Okay Hillary … In a dream I had a few weeks ago, I asked Donald Trump a kinda rough question, so it only seems fair to ask you one, too.

  1. You’re a very savvy, tough, pragmatic politician. Your supporters insist that’s a feature, not a bug. So, here’s my question. Would you have talked about disability issues and put disabled people in the spotlight as much as you have if Donald Trump hadn’t made such a spectacle of himself mocking that disabled reporter?

Just as she was about to answer, the sailboat tipped way over to port, then to starboard, and kept right on tipping, dumping me, Hillary, and the crew into the water … and I woke up.

I never got to hear Hillary’s final answer, and as happened in my Trump dream, her other answers didn’t make it into my waking consciousness either. Just like before, I remember asking her these things, but I don’t remember her answers.

So again, please, could we ask Hillary Clinton for real? I’d like to know, and maybe you do, too.

Contact: Andrew Pulrang