Friday, November 7, 2014

Wendy Davis’ infamous wheelchair ad | Last Word

Political campaigns are often not compatible with calm, rational discussion, so I decided to wait to take up the wheelchair topic.

Yes, I’m talking about Wendy Davis’ infamous wheelchair ad.

The ad caused a firestorm, and not exclusively from Abbott supporters.

The Washington Post headlined its story: “Wendy Davis is running one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see.”

The Houston Chronicle, which endorsed Davis, called the ad a “low blow” that “missed the mark, coming off more like a glib attack on Abbott for using a wheelchair.”

Even liberal MSNBC’s phalanx of talking heads trashed the ad.

These responses struck me as so much clutching at pearls.

A good case can be made that tort reform – which Abbott has supported -- and 20 years of a conservative Texas Supreme Court – including Abbott’s tenure there -- have changed Texas from a state that encouraged too much generosity towards plaintiffs to one that is too restrictive.

Abbott suffered a terrible accident, but he at least arguably benefitted from the pre-tort reform era.

His role as a Supreme Court justice and attorney general in swinging the pendulum the other way was a legitimate campaign topic.

Abbott could have responded, as some supporters did, by making the case that a young lawyer suffering the kind of injury he did could get a similar settlement today.

Instead, his response was various versions of this statement on MSNBC: “If she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair, that’s her prerogative.”

I prefer the attitude expressed to me in an angry phone call about 20 years ago by Judy Babbitt, the city of San Antonio’s long-time accessibility compliance manager.

Babbitt was struck by polio as a child.

It didn’t keep her from being an early Peace Corps volunteer, but it has put her in a wheel chair for much of her life.

I had used the expression “like picking on a cripple” in a column.

Judy, as tough a bird as they come, gave me an education.

“Damn it Casey, quit being so damned condescending,” she said. “If we deserve picking on, pick on us!”

If as governor Abbott continues to support even more measures by big business and insurance companies to restrict the access of victims to the courts, criticism will be fair game.

The same goes if he shows insensitivity to the public access needs of people with disabilities who haven’t become rich through lawsuit settlements and don’t have staffs and drivers to smooth the way for them.

He can expect to be “attacked” for it, even if he is in a wheelchair.

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