Why Can't Politicians Stop Mocking People With Disabilities?

From Obama joking about the Special Olympics to Trump mimicking a reporter, politicians on both sides of the aisle constantly dehumanize those with disabilities. Enough is enough.

This election cycle is unlike any other with petty politics and scornful slurs the daily norm.

And while many groups have suffered the slings and arrows of this petulant fighting, one group is constantly under attack from all sides of the political debate: people with disabilities.

At the Values Voters Summit in Washington, Republican representative Louie Gohmert warned, "Since most people here are Christians... A true believer does what Jesus did ... you don't make fun of people who are impaired, have special needs. And whether you like her or not, Hillary Clinton has made clear she is mentally impaired."

Disability of any kind is a convenient punch line that politicians are gleefully employing to shame their rivals.

Even before Gohmert spewed his opinion, frenzied media outlets have tried to decode the reasons behind Clinton’s coughs. Some posited that Clinton has a learning disability, Parkinson’s disease or cancer.

Donald Trump’s fans don't seem to understand that people with disabilities often form a marginalized community, are refused jobs because they are perceived to be inadequate, and do not need people who shame the public opinion to mock them.

Earlier, Trump mimicked a reporter from The New York Times. Trump alleged that Serge Kovalesk had reported on Muslims celebrating 9/11. When Kovalesk refuted these claims, Trump stood on a podium, curved his wrist to impersonate Kovalesk, who has arthrogryposis, assumed a silly voice and blabbed out, "Ah, I don't know what I said! I don't remember!"

Ann Coulter came to his defense, saying that he was mimicking a "standard retard," and not Kovalesk — a new low, even for someone as vile as Coulter.

But it’s not just the Republicans who are tone-deaf. Ableism and sexism exists on each end of the political spectrum.

After Sarah Palin hit the national stage in 2008 as John McCain's running mate, the world was introduced to her youngest child, who has Down syndrome. Palin is ardently against abortion and used her son as an example. South Carolina Democratic chairperson Carol Fowler said McCain has selected a candidate "whose primary qualification seems to be that she hasn't had an abortion."

Talking to Jay Leno, Obama joked that his average score of 129 in the bowling alley at White House was "like the Special Olympics or something," insinuating that people with disabilities cannot get to the threshold of achievements "normal" people have set. The White House later issued an apology.

This issue of politicians undermining the disabled is not an isolated one, but stems from a larger context. Too many people believe that disabilities make people inadequate or less capable of success. So they are refused jobs, not allowed to climb the ladder at workplace and are rarely seen in leadership positions.

And politicians, with these tone-deaf statements, don’t help in the least.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Joshua Roberts

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