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February 20, 2012 8:21 AM Rick Santorum: He’s not funny any more

By Harold Pollack

I admit that I’ve found Mr. Santorum’s unlikely rise rather amusing. He would self-immolate in the general election. I’ve never expected him to do more than make mischief for Romney. Of course he’s made any number of odious statements about LGBT people. Yet his comments on this front are so self-parodic and self-defeating, I found it hard to get super-upset.

Now, though, he’s got me seriously ticked off. Sayeth Mr. Santorum this weekend:

One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing,… Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.

I’m writing these words with my smiling brother-in-law Vincent sitting next to me, admiring the green lunchbox that we just bought him. Vincent lives with intellectual disabilities caused by fragile X syndrome. I find the above comments indescribably insulting.

Santorum’s comments are only made uglier by their utter lack of foundation. There is no evidence whatsoever that liberals–let alone President Obama–are less solicitious or caring about the disabled than other Americans. I’ve never heard any liberal health policy wonk promote genetic technologies to “cull the ranks of the disabled” or as part of any cost-cutting plan. That ugly meme is completely made up. By any reasonable measure, the proliferation of genetic diagnostic technologies coincides with great progress in public acceptance and support for people with disabilities.

Certainly liberals are willing to spend more money on disability services. I’ve published analyses showing that states’ 2008 voting share for John McCain was strongly correlated with reductions in state expenditures for intellectual disability services during the current recession. Most of the major disability organizations supported ACA for the obvious reasons. Preexisting condition clauses, essential health benefits, health insurance for young adults, etc. are specifically pertinent for people living with physical and mental disabilities.

Mr. Santorum (like Sarah Palin before him) disfigures public debate over painful issues such as prenatal genetic testing by making these matters another front in the culture wars. The ethical, political, and clinical dilemmas occasioned by these technologies will be hard enough. (More on these complex issues here.) Until now, at least, public discussion of these issues has been relatively free of partisan and cultural rancor.

Santorum’s campaign will eventually collapse under its own weight, not least because he keeps making such clownish offensive statements. Unfortunately, he may do real damage before he goes.

For the original comments and Santorum’s amplification, see here.

Postscript: As Ben Adler notes here, Santorum has opposed a variety of critical programs for people living with disabilities.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.