As you might have noticed, unless you were busy redecorating that new rock you've been living under, the political scene in this country has gotten pretty nasty. I have no idea how the next two months are going to possibly go by without at least one candidate using the term "motherfuckers" on Meet the Press at some point. (Perhaps I should set my DVR, just in case.)
I keep seeing dubious "facts" being throw out into the mix (and honestly, I see it mostly from the McCain campaign, although perhaps that's just because I expect it from the Republicans and am thus activated to catch it when it happens), and when the opposition does some legwork and disproves the accusation, the party who originally threw the mud just leaves it stuck to the wall as if just saying it somehow made it true. The voting public is left with such a mess to sort through that they usually walk away in disgust and end up voting for the person with the best hair.
I hate watching that happen. I hate it more that I was almost party to it.
This morning, I received an email on an assistive communications discussion list I belong to. (Yeah, every day's a party in my depressing inbox.) The email claimed that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was responsible for a SIXTY-TWO PERCENT cut in special education services during her brief tenure in office. I went online and did some cursory reading, and became convinced pretty quickly that it was true.
Here's what I found. The 2007 annual budget for the Department of Education and Early Development Special Schools in Alaska, which is overseen by the governor, showed the program funded at $8,265,300. This would have been approved prior to Palin taking office. The 2008 annual budget showed a reduction to $3,156,000, and the 2009 annual budget for that department showed the same. There's your sixty-two percent cut.
I was pissed. A lot of people were.
So I posted something on Twitter, which automatically posted a status update on Facebook, and before long I'd gotten a tiny little tornado going. I didn't have much time to spend researching the claim, since we had to take Schuyler to an eye appointment, but I kept thinking about it while I was gone. And the thing I kept thinking was how it simply didn't make sense.
Now, please understand something. For years, I had a bumper sticker on my old car that said "I'm too liberal for the Democratic Party". I find the Republican Party to be wrong in almost every area of policy, and furthermore I find their commitment to slimeball politics to be un-American. When the metaphorical Visigoths breach the walls of our modern day American Rome, it'll be the Republicans and their relentless polarization of our society unlocking the gates for them.
And the more I learn about Sarah Palin, the more I believe that she represents the most extreme positions of her party, to the point of becoming a cartoon villain. Here are just a few of her resume items:
-- As mayor of Bugfuck, Alaska, she tried to ban books and control media access to her staff. She also employed a lobbying firm and secured $27 million in earmarks for this town of fewer than 7,000 people.
-- The Alaska National Guard, her command of which is being touted as part of her executive experience, is experiencing such extreme personnel shortages that its aviation units are among the most poorly staffed in the nation; the Alaska Guard's top officer warns that the lack of qualified airmen has reached a crisis level and puts missions at risk.
-- She's deeply in love with the idea of drilling the shit out of her state of Alaska, doesn't believe in global warming and denies the viability of alternative energy solutions, saying that they "are far from imminent and would require more than 10 years to develop".
-- As part of her support for increased oil drilling in her state, Governor Palin sued the Bush administration in an effort to have polar bears removed from the list of threatened species. Polar bears! Who hates polar bears? It's a good thing puppies don't impede oil exploration.
-- Palin believe that Creationism should be taught in public schools and has frequently expressed her belief that Jesus Howard Christ needs to play a larger role in government. (Well, not literally; Jesus is a notorious slacker where civic responsibility is concerned. He dodges jury duty every time.)
-- As part of her deep Christian beliefs, she is opposed to abortion in all cases, even those resulting from rape or incest. The only unwanted pregnancies she's willing to give any ground on are ones in which childbirth would result in the death of the mother. Sarah Palin is very proud of her daughter for choosing to keep her baby (as if she would have tolerated any dissent), but she doesn't believe that anyone else should actually have that same choice.
-- Palin is a former director of "Ted Stevens Excellence in Public Service", an advocacy group for Republican women in Alaska. Stevens has been indicted by a grand jury for violations of the Ethics in Government Act. He is also out of his tiny mind, incidentally.
-- Most amusingly for me, as a citizen of the former Republic of Texas (which has its own very similar nutbags), Sarah Palin and her husband have very direct ties to the Alaskan Independence Party, a group that has advocated secession from the United States. (She addressed their party conferences in 1994, 2000 and 2008; her husband has been a registered member for ten years.) The party's founder, Joe Vogler, is a magical fountain of fun patriotic quotes: "The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government and I won't be buried under their damn flag."
So there you go. Governor Sarah Palin.
I don't feel much better about Palin's behavior as the mother of a child with special needs, either. The fact that she accepted a place on her party's ticket with a five-month-old baby with Down syndrome at the very least suggests that she simply has no idea what a hard road is waiting for her and the level of commitment that will be required of her. In an interview with People, she admitted that she didn't tell her children about her son's Down syndrome until after he was born because she wasn't sure how she felt about it herself.
"Not knowing in my own heart if I was going to be ready to embrace a child with special needs," she said, "I couldn't talk about it."
But that's the thing that didn't make sense to me. Everything I'd read about Sarah Palin suggested that she'd be a terrible choice as a vice president; indeed, she seems like a pretty poor excuse for a governor. But she did choose to have a baby with Down syndrome, and while that makes sense in light of her views on abortion, it also seems to fly in the face of the kind of disregard for disabled children that would seem to drive someone to cut their budget by sixty-two percent. The world is hardly lacking in examples of pious Christians whose opposition to abortion disintegrated as soon as they peed on the stick and saw the little plus sign. As much as it may chap her sanctimonious ass to admit it, Sarah Palin had a choice.
I couldn't escape the feeling that Palin did not seem to be the kind of monster to metaphorically throw special needs kids out on the ice floe and leave them to the mercy of cruel Nature. Perhaps I'm naive; I've certainly heard from plenty of Conservatives in the past year who believe that special education, and particularly mainstreaming, is destroying the educational opportunities for their own neurotypical kids. But still.
So I did a little more reading, and as it turns out, I was right.
So yes, the budget for the Department of Education and Early Development Special Schools in Alaska appears to have been cut by about sixty-two percent between 2007 and 2008. But if you look carefully, you'll see that one program, the Alaska Challenge Youth Academy, disappears from the budget during that time. Dig a little further, and you'll find that it's still there, but now as a separate budget item. So the money didn't get cut after all; indeed, it appears that she actually increased funding for that particular program.
There's a sort of community that exists, or seems to, among parents of special needs children. In the past I've referred to us as Shepherds of the Broken. Like it or not, I have been thinking all week, Sarah Palin just joined that group. She may not know it just yet, but it's a hard journey ahead, and the joy and political expediency of waving her baby in front of the cameras is eventually going to give way to some hard truths. The monsters that afflict our broken children don't care about your politics, and they don't make things any easier on parents who have money and power and handlers.
In her address to the Republican National Convention, a speech that was otherwise puerile and sarcastic (and trust me, I know what I'm talking about; I frequently traffic in puerile and sarcastic, although no one ever hails me as the second coming of Lincoln when I do it), Sarah Palin reached out to her fellow Shepherds:
"To the families of special needs children all across this country, I have a message for you. For years you've sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters and I pledge to you that if we're elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House."
Well, I don't believe a word of that, but at the very least, I suspect that no matter what happens to Governor Palin, she and I are going to have plenty in common. I hope she's ready. I don't think she is, but then again, not many of us were, and we're still here and still fighting. Sarah Palin, your rubber sword is waiting for you.