***Pollack on Santorum and the Disabled

One of the nastiest of Rick Santorum’s recent attacks on his fellow-citizens who do not share his particular religio-cultural affinities is his claim that liberals support prenatal testing in order to make it easier to dispose of people with disabilities. My friend Harold Pollack, a professor of social service administration at the University of Chicago who is extraordinarily knowlegeable about the practical implications of health care policies, responded with a sort of quiet heat in a New York Times op-ed:

“One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare,” Mr. Santorum said, is that it requires “free prenatal testing … Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society.” Mr. Santorum’s comment echoed Sarah Palin’s famous charge during the health care reform debate: “My parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.”

There is no basis whatsoever for Mr. Santorum or Ms. Palin’s comments. Disability advocates across the political spectrum strongly supported the 2010 health care reform. They had obvious reasons to do so. The new law provides protections for people with preexisting conditions, regulations to make sure insurers properly cover care for chronic illnesses and expanded coverage for young adults and low-income families.

But more is at stake here than factual inaccuracies. Mr. Santorum and Ms. Palin are spreading a poisonous meme: that liberals disdain the disabled and look down upon parents who raise children with physical or intellectual limitations. They seek to insert the hateful rhetoric of the culture war into one of the few areas of American life that had remained relatively free of such rancor.

You should read the entire column. Pollack notes the critical importance of federal social safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for providing treatment and support for people with disabilities. But more importantly, he stresses that this is one social services subject where people from both parties and all parts of the political spectrum have usually cooperated. Santorum is just walking the trail already blazed by Palin and others in politicizing this subject, but it’s still unfortunate. We should not, however, be surprised; anyone who tends to think of his ideological opponents as part of Satan’s hosts in a spiritual war for control of the country will naturally have few compunctions about attributing evil motives on this and every other topic. So long as this wrathful man is running for president, we should get used to it.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.