An open letter to Bernard Goldberg

05/25/2011 02:45 pm ET
  • Harold Pollack Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago

Talking with Bill O'Reilly, conservative media commentator Bernard Goldberg offered the following account of why liberals have come to dislike Sarah Palin:

She has 5 kids. Liberals don't have 5 kids. One of them has Down Syndrome. Liberals certainly don't allow that to happen.

Goldberg later clarified these remarks on his website.

So on Bill's show, I said I thought liberals (I should have said "many liberals" or "elite liberals") dislike her so much because she didn't go to Harvard, Yale or Princeton and instead bounced around a bunch of schools before landing at the University of Idaho - a crime against humanity to many of those elites. Then I said I don't think they're too happy with her either because she had five kids ... and gave them names like Trig and Track and Bristol, Willow and Piper. Then, I uttered the words that touched off the accusations that I was a "nasty" human being. I said I thought that because she made a choice ... to knowingly and willingly have a baby with Down Syndrome ... that some liberals detested her for that too.

I come to this a bit late, but I hope Mr. Goldberg still responds to this public letter:

Dear Mr. Goldberg,

As an emphatic liberal who is also a guardian of a cognitively disabled man, I find your initial comments and your clarification appalling.

I and almost every other liberal disagree with Sarah Palin on many issues. In fact, we are quite angry with her. We still wish her and her son the best in addressing the challenges he is likely to face. My very first column about Governor Palin criticized John McCain appointing such a strident and green running-mate. Yet I also wrote:

I want to offer a nod across the aisle, one person to another touched by the disability issue....
A tough election should not blind us to our common humanity. Anyone who walks the walk in the service of her personal beliefs deserves my friendship. So congratulations, Governor. You don't come close to earning my vote, but you are welcome in my home, any time.

Many friends on the Obama campaign agreed with me. I just can't identify a single prominent liberal who has expressed disdain or has questioned Governor Palin's decision to raise a child living with cognitive disability. Perhaps you know of someone. If so, you should identify him.

During the 2008 campaign, I co-chaired a large advisory subcommittee of public health professionals supporting then-candidate Obama. I also participated in an informal blogging group of health activists serving the same goal. In both group, a conspicuous number of people became politically engaged because they themselves live with a disability, or because they care for siblings, children, or others who live with serious disabilities, including Down syndrome.

Many of us got involved in the current health reform fight because we saw the impact of ungenerous or ill-conceived public policies on people we love. I'm proud to have criticized the handful of bloggers who trafficked in stupid and hurtful rumors about the Palin pregnancies or who wrote ignorant things about cognitive disability.

You assert that we liberals disdain Palin because of her small-town roots or her unusual biography. Plenty of liberals come from similar circumstances. We are dismayed by her intolerance. We are dismayed that she aspires to high office without pursuing the expertise or the sustained record of achievement appropriate to these ambitions. We are dismayed because she peddles crude untruths about death panels. I am especially dismayed that she quit her day job as Alaska governor, when she could have used that platform to help many other Alaska families who face the same challenges her family does, yet lack her family's resources.

You owe many of us a simple and straightforward apology. More than that, I hope that you reconsider your willingness to peddle sweeping and malicious stereotypes about people with whom you disagree. The politics of abortion and cultural resentment poisons everything it touches. Can't we argue about Iraq, health care, tax policy, and the rest without poisoning this, too?


Harold Pollack