Diffuse Disability, Democrats!

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Emily Munson

With Martin O’Malley out of the race, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were free to focus on one another at Thursday’s University of New Hampshire debate. Moderators Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd largely refrained from interfering in the dialogue that followed, watching with the viewers as Clinton and Sanders worked to best the other. Although the debate was fiery, it is unlikely that much interest was sparked within the disability community.

After coin-flipping her way to a victory in Iowa, Clinton attempted to establish her authenticity as a progressive from the onset. Among her liberal credentials, she stated long-time support of universal healthcare. Sanders immediately chimed in with his desire to lower pharmaceutical prices. Of course, both candidates recycled these lines from previous debates. Maybe the reconditioned talking points were a metaphoric homage to conservationism. New Hampshire is next door to the Green Mountain State. Or maybe the candidates fear that discussing the details – and consequences – of their proposals will scare voters away. “Free healthcare” sounds good, but “my administration will take money out of your paycheck to fund your neighbor’s insurance” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Indeed, this debate, more than any other, focused on the economy. Sanders tried to skewer Clinton for accepting more than $500,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs; not only does it suggest that Clinton is beholden to Wall Street, but it also insinuates that, given her vast personal wealth, Clinton cannot fathom the needs of the average American. Clinton responded by pointing out that, if Wall Street donations preclude one from being a progressive, then icons like President Obama are not progressive, either. Todd also helped Clinton when, later in the debate, he asked Sanders why he wasn’t “walking the walk” by participating in a publicly-financed campaign.

While disability was briefly mentioned in this debate – including in Clinton’s closing shout out to virtually every protected class – disability was not discussed within the context of the economy. I think that’s unfortunate. While Democrats are generally considered more politically generous in regard to public benefits, I don’t know of any person with a disability that genuinely wants to live on Social Security, inside a home purchased with a government voucher. If both Clinton and Sanders don’t wish to cut back on benefits, and they take it as a given that all viewers know this, I would still like to hear their ideas for entitlement reform. One idea with potential: Cease considering spousal income when determining Medicaid eligibility, at least for those receiving crucial long-term care services.

(Hey, if the Democrats don’t pick up my idea, maybe Ted Cruz will. He’s all about keeping the nuclear family together, right?)

In conclusion, we’ve reached the point where people with disabilities are finally being mentioned. We’re not yet to the point where their issues are fully understood. The good news: we’ve still got nine months!

Contact: Emily Munson