Monday, October 13, 2014

A Wendy Davis ad attacks Greg Abbott using...his wheelchair. Really?

Wendy Davis, the Democratic candidate for Texas governor, has come under fire in recent days for a television ad about Greg Abbott, the Republican contender. He's been in a wheelchair since a 1984 accident left him paralyzed. 

The ad, titled "Justice," opens with a shot of a wheelchair and a voice-over intoning, "A tree fell on Greg Abbott. He sued and got millions. Since then, he's spent his career working against other victims." The ad goes on to depict how he has opposed that people in similar unfortunate circumstances get justice themselves. Here, see for yourself:



A spokesperson for Abbott has said the ad shows a "disturbing lack of judgment" and is a "historic low for someone seeking to represent Texans." Meanwhile, Davis's communications director told The Huffington Post, "What this ad shows is that after rightly seeking justice for himself, Greg Abbott turned around and spent his entire carer denying that same kind of justice to other victims...." and also noted the ad raised "legitimate questions." 

Whether or not you like Wendy Davis (I became a fan after her famous 2013 filibuster) is irrelevant; we should all be disappointed by this ad. This is a major misstep for a candidate who's had a good reputation. Claiming opponents are two-faced toads who made wrong decisions is nothing new in politics, but playing up someone's disability is just plain vile. The ad may as well had the voice-over say, "This man has a disability, do you really want him for your next governor?" 

I also disagree with the premise of the ad. Just because Abbott has a disability does not mean he has to be the de facto hero of "victims" (wording from the ad). Also: They're associating "disability" with victimhood. NICE. If Davis wanted to point out his disappointing track record with tort reform, she certainly could have done it without playing up his disability.

An Associated Press reporter pointed out that Abbott himself has drawn attention to his wheelchair, with spots in which he discusses his recovery and even one in which he rolls past cars stuck in traffic. But it wasn't as if he was trying for the pity vote—in fact, it seems, it's just the opposite. An online friend of mine, Marcy, who has spina bifida and is a paraplegic, put it this way:

"His use of the wheelchair is fair. Not because it shows he's overcome challenges, because everyone who gets out of bed has done that. But using the wheelchair in ads shows potential voters he's as capable as any other candidate. Without making that clear, it's too easy for people to assume archaic stereotypes regarding disabled persons. As much as we'd all like to think societal views have evolved, they really haven't. Today's wheelchair-using candidate must have the same fears about people's erroneous assumptions that prompted FDR to avoid been seen using his chair."

Slamming a candidate who happens to use a wheelchair: Bring it. It's an election. Slamming a candidate for having a wheelchair is hitting below the belt of the worst kind. 

UPDATE

I would like to share info that comes courtesy of Robert Rummel-Hudson, a writer I've long admired who happens to live in Texas. He's pointed out to me, as have others, that Abbott has attempted to block implementation of the Americans with Disabilities act, and he shared the following snippet from the website of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. While I continue to find the ad to be in poor taste, Abbott's troublesome ADA history is worth noting:

Abbott is selective. His contention is that only the State has immunity from acts of discrimination under the ADA. Private businesses, Texas cities and counties and even federal actions within Texas are all subject to the ADA. His position is not the consensus of his fellow attorneys general.

23 comments:

  1. "The ad may as well had the voice-over say, "This man has a disability, do you really want him for your next governor?""

    Wow, I'm not really seeing that message in this ad at all. It doesn't say anything about his wheelchair use or its impact on his candidacy, just that he's made a career out of denying other people who've survived unfortunate and/or disabling events. It's a weak and somewhat confusing ad, but I don't see anything attacking his wheelchair or disability status here (other than the ominous empty wheelchair at the beginning, but that just comes across as silly to me.)

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    1. Me, I didn't see "silly." I saw a lingering shot on a wheelchair that further impressed in viewers' minds that Abbott is a candidate in a wheelchair.

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  2. I usually agree with your positions on here but not this time, I agree with Lauren (in comments) It's not a great ad but most political ad's aren't!!! I think the point of the ad was to say as someone with a disability he should be helping people with disabilities but hasn't. I admit it was a confusing ad. But it didn't come across (to me anyway) that they were saying that because he had a disability, he shouldn't be governor. No where did it say anything at all about him not making a good governor because he was in a wheelchair or has a disability- more like he would make a bad governor because he hasn't help others in the same boat (a point which maybe shouldn't have been made at all) but that's like political ad 101-taking a few events in your opponent's life & blowing them up to work against their character. Just sayin' Anyway, Have a great day! :)

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    1. Couldn't agree more, most political ads are awful! And like I said, I got what the seeming point of the ad is, but still. The opening shot plays up his wheelchair. The ad uses the words "other victims" to refer to people with disability. There is an undertone here of disabled people being weak (and Abbott being despicably weak because he has not done right for other 'victims').

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  3. I agree with previous comments in so far as it's not attacking his disability.

    To me it seems more like they are saying "why is it fair for him to sue and collect millions for his accident, why blocking other people from doing similar things". More an attack on how fair he is to all people. And perhaps they are subtly accusing him of being prejudicial himself. Just because he has a disability doesn't mean he is above being against disabled people. You know what I mean?

    It's a bad ad, for sure, and probably isn't the whole story or complete truth. But really, since when are political ads ever either of those things?

    Just my perspective as a born and raised disabled person.

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    1. "Just because he has a disability doesn't mean he is above being against disabled people. You know what I mean?" YES. I know. And I don't think he should always be expected to rule for people with disabilities. That said, I am not that familiar with his history, and Rob's note below about his attempts to block the implementation of the ADA is worrisome. But still, I wasn't standing up for Abbott's politics, I was reacting to an ad that I saw as unfairly calling out his disability.

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  4. Sorry, but I have to disagree entirely. In addition to his own use of his disability in his campaign and his hypocritical campaign for tort reform that limited future settlements EXACTLY like his own, one of Abbott's first acts as Texas attorney general was the first of several attempts to block implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I'm not even kidding.

    Davis's spotlight on Abbott's grotesque treatment of Texans with disabilities isn't just fair. It's critical information for voters. It's the kind of support that those with disabilities in this state deserve and haven't gotten.

    I'm sorry to say, I think you've definitely come down on the wrong side here.

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    1. Rob, I highly respect your opinion. And, granted, I lack an in-depth knowledge of Texan politics (as you have). I'm troubled to hear about Abbott's attempts to block the implementation of the ADA. In fact, if the ad had focused on that, I think I would have had a less visceral reaction. Please know I am not choosing sides—I'd still vote for Davis. I'm expressing disappointment over an ad that I feel unfairly played up his disability. Saying that he has not helped "other victims" (and equating disability with being a victim) and the opening shot of the empty wheelchair further reinforce his disability. In a world in which people remain largely uncomfortable with disability, this to me seemed like a low blow.

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    2. "Please know I am not choosing sides—I'd still vote for Davis."

      Did you not choose a side with that statement?

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  5. The ad highlights Greg Abbott's position on tort reform, therefor it's fair game. I think even the supporters of Wendy Davis would have to agree. The problem is this isn't the first slip up Team Davis has made and in the long run has put her on defense. The flipside is Greg Abnbott HAS overcome a lot and would be the first governor in a wheelchair, which is quite an accomplishment. It's too bad his views affecting people with disabilities are so wrong!

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    1. Calling into question an opponent's decisions is fair game, but still, this ad seems to have a not-so-subliminal message. People have definitely had mixed reactions to it!

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  6. Watching this video proved to me that politics is a dirty game.

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  7. This is a tough one. Greg Abbott made his career on tort "reform" (fancy word for screwing plaintiffs out of their rights to protect insurance company profits) and also supports Texas' leadership decisions (Medicaid, etc) that have made TX one of the worst states to have a disability if you're not a multi-millionaire.....

    The argument made by this ad is correct, that Abbott received millions that he deserved, then worked to strip this right from anyone else. But, but, BUT... this ad did a dreadful job of portraying this argument. The Davis campaign should have tread very carefully to make sure they hit the real issue, but they did not. The long shot on the wheelchair made the whole ad look ableist, and took away from the real issue.

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    1. Yes, a dreadful job. I don't get WHAT Davis's team was thinking, especially with Abbott in the lead.

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    2. Again personally, as someone with a disability, I get the ad. The irony here is people with disabilities will react positively to the aad. People without disabilities will think the ad is horrible. I would appreciate your respone to my take

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  8. I normally agree with your posts but I'm not seeing anything offensive about this. They use the word victim because it's concerning legal matters. If they.said "victims of disability" then I would have an issue. They use a wheelchair to identify the candidate but I wouldn't be surprised to see a pair of pink running shoes in the background of the opposing campaign ads.

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  9. I've seen quite a few people who have shared similar responses, and while they're understandable, I actually disagree entirely. It's been interesting to read your piece and the comments from your readers. I think many of the angry and shocked responses to the ad are coming from a view of disability as untouchable. I wrote a response on my blog, so I hope it's okay if rather than reiterating the whole thing here, I just share the link with you: http://wordsiwheelby.com/2014/10/politics-disability-wendy-davis-wheelchair-ad/

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    1. @emily. Great response on your blog. Well written. Well thought out. Kudos !

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    2. Thank you! And Ellen, I am glad to see your update. Important info.

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    3. Excellent post, Emily, I commented. Andrew Pulrang's post on the topic is also worth a read: http://disabilitythinking.blogspot.com/2014/10/offensive-no-bad-idea-you-bet.html

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    4. I was just about to share Emily's post here so I'm glad she got to it first! It definitely raised some questions for me about Abbott's own use of his disability in his campaign ads. It seems that his disability was used in poor taste on both sides in this situation and I'm still pondering how I feel about it all. Great posts, both of you!

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  10. Ellen, THANK YOU for calling on our better selves when it comes to politics! I am not a fan of Wendy Davis. However, even if I saw my favorite politician with an ad like this, I would be outraged. A politician cannot claim to be a friend to the disabled, and then run something as abhorrent as this type of ad. Very poor judgment indeed.

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  11. If you say something, do it.

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Thanks for sharing!



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