Wrong Party, Mr. Reeve

by Marianne M. Jennings, a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. This article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on 8/28/96 and was received from The Political Digest on 8/28/96

 The real tragedy in Christopher Reeve's speech
 to the delegates at the Democratic convention
 on Monday night was not witnessing the
 magnitude of his disabilities. Mr. Reeve
 possesses the character and strength to conquer
 whatever lies ahead. The tragedy is that Mr.
 Reeve believes the Democrats can help him.
 My husband and I have the privilege of raising
 a child with problems more extensive than Mr.
 Reeve's. Our Claire has never walked nor
 spoken. She has no discernible voluntary
 movements. Claire will turn 10 in January, but
 the experts place her level of development at
 three months. Fighting in the disability
 trenches--as I have for nearly a decade--you
 learn quickly who talks a good game and who
 To a cheering audience, Mr. Reeve cited the
 progress the Americans with Disabilities Act has
 made in both "architecture and attitudes." The
 elated crowd in the United Center somehow
 forgot that the ADA was conceived and signed
 into law during the Bush administration.
 Mr. Reeve does not want to see programs for
 the disabled "slashed." Just two years ago
 Hillary Clinton, who looked at Mr. Reeve with
 admiration during his remarks Monday night,
 offered a comprehensive health care plan that
 would have reduced or eliminated benefits for
 those with chronic conditions. In testimony
 before Congress, a deputy assistant secretary of
 health and human services admitted that Mrs.
 Clinton's plan was "not designed as a chronic
 care benefit." Physical therapy would have
 been limited to 60 days. And not even
 Superman could have made it through an
 appeal of a benefits denial under the Clinton
 health plan. As Bob Dole showed us at the
 time, the Clinton plan would have created a
 thicket of 33 new federal agencies.
 Mr. Reeve urged increased research to
 eliminate disabilities. Yet surely he knows that
 experimental treatments and drugs would not
 have been covered under Mrs. Clinton's plan.
 And research does not receive unanimous
 support among Democrats. Animal-rights
 activists in the audience must have cringed at
 Mr. Reeve's suggestion, because progress in
 spinal-cord research means more animal testing.
 But Mr. Reeve's research agenda meets its
 greatest obstacle among the trial lawyers.
 Progress in medicine is always slow when
 innovators are busy defending lawsuits. Should
 Mr. Reeve ever need a shunt, I wish him luck
 trying to locate one of these life-giving devices.
 Shunts are made of silicone. So were breast
 implants. Thanks to the trial lawyers, few
 companies this side of Chapter 11 will sell
 anything made of silicone for human
 implantation. To respond to Mr. Reeve's plea
 for progress, the delegates and their candidates
 have a choice. They can retrieve shunts from
 corpses or return their donations from the trial
 lawyers, one of the country's richest and most
 pro-Democratic political action committees.
 Finally, Mr. Reeve urged the delegates to
 increase programs for the disabled. If you want
 a program, call a Democrat. If you want results,
 bring in the Republicans. Over the years I have
 experienced difficulty obtaining benefits and
 services for my daughter because of
 bureaucratic mazes choking under their own
 weight. It was a Republican governor who
 stepped in to help us and then went on to
 streamline those systems. And President
 Reagan unilaterally changed the
 Democratic-created requirement that you had to
 run out of money before becoming eligible for
 Medicaid. Mr. Reagan expanded the availability
 of assistance by making degree of disability, not
 just income, a standard for eligibility.
 As I watched Mr. Reeve speak softly and in
 rhythm with his respirator, I had great
 admiration. But I also felt outrage. How dare
 the Democrats use Mr. Reeve as a political
 pawn! How dare they portray themselves as
 champions of the disabled! Those who have
 masterfully engineered the obstacles were
 touting someone who has never run the course.
 Mr. Reeve has been disabled for just over a
 year. His wealth places him slightly above the
 fray; he even has a private therapy room. But if
 he hits the trenches with us, he'll soon realize
 that he's got the wrong party.

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