“Crisis Simulations”

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Andrew Pulrang

I was all set to write about the Hillary Clinton campaign’s approach to disability issues and disabled voters, after watching Clinton’s Thursday speech on disability and employment.

Quick version: I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. It’s a huge boon to the disability community that she even has a campaign strategy centered on disability, with some decent policy ideas to go with it. But, there’s still just a little too much mushy sentimentalism about disabled people in Team Clinton’s rhetorical strategy around disability, and I’d like to hear her talk to us directly … as “You,” not just as “They.” And while I’m on the subject, enough with Trump’s mockery already. It was bad, and it’s a bad sign for what he’d be like as President, but it’s no worse that stuff we see all the time, and we usually manage without tears and chin quivering. So in sum, the glass, I think, is half empty and half full.

Instead of elaborating on all that, I want to explore an idea I saw this morning in a Vox.com article by Lee Drutman, titled, “The presidential debate format stinks. We should run crisis simulations instead.” In it, Drutman suggests that instead of answering gotcha questions and trading one-liners and verbal stumbles in the upcoming debates, it would be better for us to put the candidates through some “crisis simulations.”


What would the candidates do with the kinds of real-life dilemmas and disasters that always come up during a typical presidency?

How would a format like this work for disabled voters? What kinds of crisis simulations could we come up with to flesh out how Clinton and Trump would handle actual disability issues as President? I’m not talking about what their disability agendas would be, but rather how they would handle the unexpected.

Wouldn’t you like to know how a President Clinton, President Trump … or a President Stein or Johnson … would respond these crises?

  • What if some future configuration of the Supreme Court overturns the Olmstead decision, deciding that the kinds of support services disabled people can get should be left to doctors, social workers, and state budgets, not fundamental principles like civil rights, equal services, and most integrated setting? What if every county in the country got a legal green light to shut down those messy home care programs, open an extra nursing home, and call it a day?
  • What if we hit another recession, and the Social Security Disability rolls fill up again? What if a sober, bipartisan group of House and Senate members convince themselves that disability benefits must be systematically cut, because everyone knows they are supporting lazy cheaters and people with new, exotic “disabilities” we never even used to have back in the good old days?
  • What if the current trend away from nursing homes and sheltered workshops, towards home and community-based disability services, gets blocked by a hardened coalition of “concerned” parents, nursing home companies, large non-profits, and public service and health care unions? What if, instead of a few cautionary Op-Ed pieces and bouts of grousing, a real movement forms around the idea that some disabled people just need to be put where they can be “looked after” again?
  • What if “assisted suicide” becomes a widely popular “personal choice” cause … a hot, hip issue on a par with marijuana legalization? What if 2 or 3 highly publicized but isolated “deaths with dignity” a year becomes hundreds, with at least one in every American community big enough to have a local newspaper or TV station to sentimentally and uncritically cover it?
  • What if dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of disabled people in the span of a few short months are killed by police? What if black disabled people, in particular, fall victim to a deadly combination of racist, ableist stereotypes and misconceptions, and over-armed, jittery cops?

Of course, some of these things are happening right now, to some extent, so they’re not just simulations. But for the purposes of a real candidate test, all we would have to do is take situations as they are for disabled people and imagine a plausible day in the near future when it becomes twice or three times as bad.

How would the Presidential candidates react to situations like these if they were President? In what direction would their political beliefs guide them? How would they apply their past management experiences to solving what would probably be fairly unfamiliar problems? Who would they listen to, and what kind of expertise would they rely on? How much of their political capital would they use, and how far would they go to forge a politically palatable “compromise?” Would they even view these problems as high priorities for a President?

It’s a bit late in the game to hope for something like it, but it would be really helpful to have an event where the Presidential candidates were forced to come up with responses and plans to hypothetical problems like these. I would love to see this year’s candidates go through these simulations. You know, before they become more than simulations … before a crisis like one of these happens for real.

As the saying goes, I would watch the hell out of that.

Contact: Andrew Pulrang