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.
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.