Last night, I personally wrote Jonah Goldberg, the editor-at-large of The National Review Online, to express my observations on one of his latest blog entries. Mr. Goldberg, who was hoisted into the national spotlight due to his mother’s friendship with Linda Tripp, dug up an eight-year-old article in The Boston Globe in order to propound the argument that Senator John McCain cannot use a computer because of injuries he sustained as a prisoner of war, a claim that was repeated today by none other than Karl Rove.
Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by “extraordinary.” The reason he doesn’t send email is that he can’t use a keyboard because of the relentless beatings he received from the Viet Cong in service to our country.
But they then say he doesn’t even know how to use a — you know, doesn’t send e-mail. Well, this is because his war injuries keep him from being able to use a keyboard. He can’t type. You know, it’s like saying he can’t do jumping jacks.
Well, there’s a reason why he can’t raise his arms above his head. There’s a reason why he doesn’t have the nimbleness in his fingers.
To be sure, I can find absolutely no record of Senator McCain ever making such a claim. In fact, Senator McCain has claimed the opposite: He may be “computer illiterate,” but he’s apparently learning how to navigate the Internet and, though he doesn’t know own a Blackberry, he knows how to use one. Quoting McCain from an interview with Politico:
I am learning to get online myself, and I will have that down fairly soon, getting on myself. I don’t expect to be a great communicator, I don’t expect to set up my own blog, but I am becoming computer literate to the point where I can get the information that I need — including going to my daughter’s blog first, before anything else….
I use the Blackberry, but I don’t e-mail, I’ve never felt the particular need to e-mail.
In other words, Senator McCain is physically capable of using a computer (and he is apparently learning how to do so), but he is still, for all intents and purposes, computer illiterate. Still, we have proof he knows how to type:
The title page of Senator McCain’s hand-typed essay to the National War College, 1974.
Please don’t mistake the intention of this post: I have the utmost respect for Senator McCain’s service and sacrifice to our country, and I certainly don’t mean to diminish the extent of the injuries he sustained as a prisoner of war.
But the attempt to deflect criticisms of McCain’s self-admitted computer illiteracy by falsely suggesting this is due to a physical disability is offensive– not just to the Senator himself, but also to the millions of disabled Americans who, despite their conditions, learn how to adapt and adjust.
It’s a ridiculous excuse– not one propagated by the McCain campaign, but one that is being broadcast by individuals who seem to lack even the most basic understanding of the ways in which disabled people can use computers, individuals who, when backed into a corner, only know how to lash out by invoking hyperbolic invectives– as if the criticism of McCain’s computer illiteracy is somehow making fun of the injuries he sustained in Vietnam.
Sure, it’s not the most important issue in this campaign, and maybe, to some, it’s silly that the Obama campaign would even point out McCain’s computer illiteracy. But the phony outrage, constructed upon a phony diagnosis of Senator McCain, is exploitative, ignorant, and patronizing.
When I was in college, I tutored a disabled kid who learned how to use a computer through an ingenious system in which he inhaled and exhaled into a tube. According to Mr. Goldberg, people like this young man only learn how to use a computer because he “needs it to get through life.”
Pardon me for this, but Jonah Goldberg, to me, will always appear far more limited and disabled than the young man I tutored. To me, it’s far more constraining to live in a continued state of solipsistic self-righteousness and cynical dismissiveness than it is to live in a world that celebrates people who, despite their physical disability or any other limitation, refuse to use their conditions as an excuse to remain ignorant.
As a child, whenever I became frustrated with my own physical disability (cerebral palsy), my late father would tell me, “Son, everyone has a disability. It’s just that people can see yours.” In his view, the unseen handicaps were often the worst– racism, bigotry, arrogance, ignorance, selfishness, and addiction– conditions that prevent people from understanding their common humanity.
Now, I’m not suggesting I am perfect or somehow immune to “unseen handicaps.”
Still, the point remains: When you exaggerate or exploit another human being’s physical limitations as an excuse for their willful ignorance, you are actually stripping them of their common humanity and cheapening their struggles.