At my father's funeral, the presiding minister, Ebb Munden, was a man who had been one of my dad's closest friends. Ebb talked about how the last time he had gone to see my dad before he lost consciousness, he had been very emotional but that my dad had comforted him by gripping his hand and telling him it would be alright, that my dad was at peace and Ebb should be too. The lesson was that even at our physically weakest we could still be helping other people and making things better in the world.
I was thinking of that this past weekend when I went to see my brother Kevin back home in Lincoln, Nebraska. Kevin is one of those people who followers of Ayn Rand's philosophy would call a leech on society -- Rand believed that people with disabilities were leeches and parasites on society, and that the "parasites should perish." Kevin's birth father broke a chair over his head and gave him brain damage, making him developmentally disabled and making it hard for him to speak clearly. He came to my family when we were both 11 years old, and has been not only my brother but one of my closest friends ever since. As an adult in recent years, his body has continued to betray him as he is hard of hearing, can't see well, and has muscular dystrophy. Recently he had to go into the hospital for major surgery and then developed pneumonia -- his muscular dystrophy makes it especially tough to recover from all this.
For all of that, though, Kevin still contributes to the world around him, just as he always has. He has always shown great tenderness to the people around him, and still does. He can't talk right now because he is on a ventilator, but his expressive hands still say a great deal. After I was watching him go through strenuous rehab exercises, I came over to him after he was done and asked how he was doing, and he just grinned and patted me on my too-big tummy, not only telling me he was okay, but that maybe I should be doing more exercise too. Even with all the tubes attached to him, he was still up for playing catch with a plastic ball in his room. He still had smiles for, and played ball with, a 5-year-old girl who came to see him. One of the nurses at the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital told me how touched she had been when he gave her a hug even though she was doing painful rehab exercises she knew he didn't like. He still gave me all kinds of trouble, taking delight in showing me two stuffed dogs people had given him because he had named the big dog Kevin and the little dog Mike. And when I had to leave to go the airport and had tears in my eyes as I was leaning down to hug him goodbye, he rubbed my head to comfort me. I had come to comfort him in his time of pain, and he had comforted me even more. Kevin being a part of my life has been such a gift to me, and has made me 100 times better a person.
Kevin has also shaped my values and philosophy of life, and given me a perspective on policy issues. Conservatives are obsessed with the idea that somewhere, somehow there are lazy "undeserving" welfare recipients, but more than 90 percent of government support dollars go to the elderly, people working hard but are still below the poverty line because of low-wage jobs, and very disabled people like Kevin -- those whose middle-class families like mine would be plunged into poverty if we had to pay for all their medical costs on our own.
It is Kevin who I think of when I see that the Ryan-Romney budget slashes money from Medicaid and from the Social Services Block Grant, a fund specifically targeted to help states meet the needs of their most vulnerable citizens. It is Kevin who I thought about when the audience at a Republican debate cheered about a man who had no health insurance dying. It is Kevin who I thought of when an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference laughed and cheered when Glenn Beck gleefully proclaimed that "in nature, the lions eat the weak."
A society that does not value my brother Kevin at least as much as it does the Wall Street titans who grow rich as they speculate with other people's money, and use the tax code to write off the debt they use to buy and sell companies regardless of the consequences to the families who work there, is a sick society. A government that would cut support to middle-class families trying to support their disabled children so the wealthy can get more tax breaks -- a government that actually decides to help the wealthy and powerful more than the poor and disabled -- would be a government with no decency. That is what Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, and the Republicans are proposing for us. Their hero Ayn Rand would be proud.
I have many reasons for working to oppose Romney's policies. I think his economic policies are a disaster for an economy still weakened by allowing Wall Street to run roughshod over the rest of us for the first decade of this century. I'd like for people to have access to contraceptives, and all of us to have access to quality health care. The idea of appointing more Supreme Court Justices who support cases like the Citizens United ruling that have allowed "corporations are people, my friends" is destructive to our democracy. But even if all of that wasn't there, I would only need one reason to oppose Romney's policies, and his name is Kevin.
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