Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Autism Vote

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:09 AM |  

From “Autism and the GOP – Why Parents are Fed UP” by David Kirby, author of “Evidence of Harm.” (Tip of the sou'wester to the indefatigable Anne Dachel.)
Thousands of moms and dads are convinced that environmental toxins - and mercury in particular -- played a pivotal role in their children's illness. But this idea has been very unpopular in George Bush's Washington.

Then came the Combating Autism Act, a sweeping (and long overdue) bill that made its painstaking way through the US Senate earlier this year. Careful consensus was crafted among all major autism groups to help create a nearly $1 billion bill which, among other things, would direct at least $45 million into NIH research on potential environmental causes of autism.

And now, at least 1-in-83 voters will have autism on their mind when heading to the polls. [Kirby is assuming 2 parents for each one autistic child out of 166 live births.] They will wonder why the Combating Autism Act has seemingly died in the House, and why leaders like Speaker Denny Hastert have done little, if anything, to save it.

I know many Republican parents who will be voting Democratic this year. It's not that the opposition party presents any great alternative. But, like with most Americans and Iraq, these fed up voters feel like any change will be a change for the better.
Kirby also notes –
Big Energy and Big Pharma are two of the GOP's most reliable cash cows. They also happen to be responsible for most of the mercury that ends up in our kids. And though the autism-mercury link has yet to be proven, Republican leaders really, really want the issue to just go away.
“Just wanting issues to go away” is a chronic problem for Republicans when they get outside the party's comfort zone. So is running away from their contributors. This year especially Republicans were much more comfortable criticizing the Democrats’ solutions on issues like health care and social security than articulating why their solutions are better. They never got past the sound bite level.

Amy Klobuchar constantly attacked Mark Kennedy on Big Pharma money, like she did on his votes supporting President Bush. Kennedy never really had a good answer to her interest-group attacks. His only response was to attack her for holding Pharma stock in a 401K account. Robert Fitzgerald scored in Sunday’s debate when he pointed out that both Kennedy and Klobuchar took interest group money and therefore, he implied, couldn't be independent.

I’m not against interest group contributions because in the end policy stands or falls on its own merits -- and to many parents of autistic kids, Republican policy on autism falls. If you take the money, you have to be prepared to defend your independence. Neither major party did a good job of that, but this year Democrats did a better job exploiting the follow the money theme.