Sarah Palin, Disability, and Fair-Weather Small-Government Advocates

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Dana Goldstein has a good piece about Sarah Palin’s opportunistic posing as an advocate for the rights of the disabled:

Since the end of the presidential election, we haven’t heard Sarah Palin articulate any specific policy proposals [on disability],” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, a Beltway lobbying group representing people with intellectual disabilities. Like nine other national disability-rights leaders The Daily Beast spoke to, Berns pointed to Palin’s excusing of Rush Limbaugh’s use of the word “retarded”—even as she hammered Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff, for the same sin—as evidence of her lack of seriousness. “It has unfortunately politicized the issue in ways that are not productive, and it has converted what really are bipartisan issues into partisan ones,” Berns said.

To me, though, the larger issue is Palin’s credibility as an advocate of limited government on any other front. As Goldstein notes, on the campaign trail Palin was associated with a proposal to substantially boost federal IDEA funding for special needs education. A fine idea, but how about families who have problems that haven’t specifically touched Palin’s family? What about kids whose parents can’t afford to buy health insurance or nutritious food? Where’s Palin the SNAP advocate? What about kids living in high-crime neighborhoods? Where’s Palin the COPS advocate? Well, nowhere.

Small-government types don’t like to be accused of being uncaring or lacking empathy. But I think it’s striking how common it is to find a high-profile conservative politician who’s against federal activism for everything except some one cause that’s afflicted his or her own family. In most cases, this isn’t selfish—the Palins will be fine no matter what happens with IDEA. But she recognizes that some families with special needs kids aren’t as fortunate as she is and she empathizes and sympathizes with their plight. Other people with other problems she’s just indifferent to.