Former President George H.W. Bush is 93 years old. He’s had some health problems since he left the presidency in 1993, including developing a form of Parkinson’s disease that led to his using a wheelchair to get around for the past several years.
And he can get around in that chair thanks, in part, to a law he signed 27 years ago. Bush 41 was in fine health when he championed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. At that time, he did not personally benefit from its protections and accommodations. Now he does.
Bush understood that back in 1990. He understood that every one of us is potentially one day away from needing the protections of the ADA. He understood that the longer we live, the greater the odds that we will come to need them.
The ADA is modeled on civil rights laws forbidding discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin, but disability is different from those categories. Trumpian white nationalists, for example, oppose equal protection and civil rights for nonwhites because they regard such people as Them, and they don’t care about Them, only about Us. But when it comes to disability, the line between Us and Them is more fluid and random than the lines such clannish chauvinists rely on when advocating discrimination based on race or religion or gender or ethnicity. Every now-able-bodied person is one accident or illness away from changing categories.
So it doesn’t make sense to oppose the protections of the ADA — not even according to the nonsensical “sense” of Hobbesian white nationalists or Lester-Maddox-ish homophobic cake-sellers. Even if you’re a self-worshipping Ayn Rand cultist who rejects every notion of solidarity or altruism, it makes no sense to oppose ADA. Even if your individual self-interest or the interest of your ethnic or religious tribe is the only thing you care about, that self-interest should compel you to ensure equal protection and full accommodation for people with disabilities — because you could become one of them in the twinkling of an eye.
This is true for the ADA, specifically, and it’s true for every aspect of health and health care more generally. Universal access to affordable health care is something you should support even if your own precious ass is the only thing you care about. It doesn’t matter if your self-centeredness is purely the product of you being a jerk or if it has the sheen and pretend-indifference of ideology: If your center is self-centeredness, then you, yourself, should support universal health care for the sake of you yourself.
Because you might, at any moment, come to need it desperately.
To deny that is to be recklessly foolish. To deny that is to endanger yourself. It means betting against the odds.
That’s a terrible bet. It’s stupid and it’s cruel to others and it’s almost certain to come back to bite you, even if you do everything “right.”
In his case it was a car accident. Put him in the hospital, racking up thousands of dollars in medical bills. He’s got a GoFundMe, because of course he does. He hopes to raise enough cash to pay those unforeseen medical expenses and then go right back to being a “young adult in perfect health” who refuses to be FORCED to belong to a society that takes care of people after car crashes. The accident and his injuries from it could have been much worse, but they weren’t, so there’s no need for him to learn anything.
It doesn’t have to be a car crash. It could be a diagnosis. A lump, a persistent ache, an oddly shaped mole, a nagging cough. And it could come at any time, any day, any second. To anyone. Today, you may be wholly free of any “pre-existing condition.” That can change at any time. For everyone.
I’m not appealing here to anything as lofty as justice or morality or solidarity or altruism. I’m not even talking about the bare-minimum human decency of something like the “Jimmy Kimmel Test,” named and immediately violated by a horribly dishonest human being from Louisiana. I’m just talking about self-interested prudence.
“Prudent” was, famously, a favorite word of President George H.W. Bush. He didn’t make prudence the basis of his support for the ADA, but he could have. It is, in fact, prudent for all of us to support protections and accommodations for people with disabilities because all of us might one day soon find ourselves needing them.
And it is also, in fact, prudent to support universal access to affordable health care, because all of us will almost certainly one day find ourselves needing it.
Republicans today control every branch of the federal government. And right now, they’re trying to neutralize the Americans With Disabilities Act and to make health care unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. I think such cruelty is immoral and unjust, but set that aside. It is also recklessly foolish. It is imprudent.
We are being governed by fools.