Regular Needs Children

It’s nice, I suppose, that Sarah Palin’s experience raising a special needs child has awakened her to the importance of generous public support for such children. And it’d also be nice to think that John McCain’s embrace of this issue reflects a genuine Palin-inspired awakening on his part, rather than a cynical recognition that standard conservative policies that would normally evade attention despite their hideously immoral consequences would be highlighted by the case of Trig Palin. And so good for them. Obviously, special needs children deserve to have their needs taken care of. But of course all children have a lot of needs. And the moral logic that supports taking care of the needs of children with special needs also, of course, supports the idea of supporting all children with their needs.

If one of John McCain’s children had a cavity, I’m sure McCain would have them go to the dentist. Same with Palin and her kids. And the same with every Republican member of congress. And they’d make sure their kids get regular dental checkups and tooth cleanings. That’s not a “special” need, but it’s a need. But if your parents are too poor to afford regular cleanings for your teeth, then you’re out of look as far as conservatives are concerned. That need’s not “special” enough. Or suppose you were hoping for a standard medical checkup? Well, conservatives are against expanding S-CHIP. Suppose you rely on Medicaid to pay for a doctor to take care of you when you’re sick? Well, states will be cutting back spending in the face of the recession and conservatives oppose efforts to have the federal government boost aid to the states. First Focus found that “real discretionary spending on children has declined by more than six percent since 2004” under George W. Bush and McCain’s plan for large, across-the-board cuts in real discretionary spending would, of course, force further reductions.

What’s the justification for this? Its not that conservative politicians don’t understand that non-”special” children have substantial needs. You can see from the way they raise their own kids — just like all other prosperous families, they spend generously on them. But 16 percent of all children and twenty percent of children under the age of six live in households that are below the poverty line. A family of four is below the poverty line earning $21,200. If you’re a woman earning $21,200 a year and raising three children, you’re going to find that it’s really, really hard to take care of all your regular children’s regular needs. Note that as of July 24, 2009 the minimum wage will be $7.25 per hour which conservatives think is too high. If you work forty hours a week, for fifty-two weeks a year at $7.25 an hour you’ll take home $15,080 a year with which to take care of your regular children’s regular needs. Try to give you a refundable tax credit? Well, that’s welfare and we can’t have it.

It would be one thing if conservatives had the courage of their convictions and just said, “hey, government intervention in the economy is so terrible that we don’t care if children suffer.” But when you see candidates out there on the hustings talking about how we need to take care of special needs children, well, it makes me mad. Of course we need to take care of their needs. But kids, special and otherwise, need all kinds of stuff. They need decent childcare and nutritious food and they need to see doctors and dentists and they need clothing and they need decently maintained houses that are heated in the winter. They need parents with job opportunities and schedules that are flexible enough to take care of them. Nobody seriously denies that kids need this stuff. But lots of people are just indifferent to the fact that a huge proportion of our children don’t get their needs met. And it’s appalling. McCain says that rather than spreading the wealth around, he wants to have equal opportunity. But what kind of equal opportunity do have when mom’s pulling in $21,500 to support three kids and President McCain is slashing spending on child and family services left and right?