Although vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin might not appreciate Rudy Giuliani’s earlier tendencies to support gun control, a woman’s right to choose and cross-dressing, they actually have a lot in common. They are two of the most caustic figures this election season—that is, until they become earnest when the matter at hand relates directly to them (or their candidate). Many politicians use this technique when running for office, but it is troubling that both Palin and Giuliani also have a record of governing in this manner.
Take health issues. Referencing her newborn child’s Down’s syndrome, Palin has promised that special-needs parents will have an advocate in the White House. Indeed, Palin allowed a significant funding increase for special needs children in Alaska’s most recent budget. Along the same lines, when Giuliani was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer, he pushed for a campaign to screen and test for this illness.
Few of us would assail these actions because we support positive policy changes and are sympathetic to personal stories of hardship. But it is problematic that Palin and Giuliani did very little about health issues before they became directly affected by them. Do we only want our public servants to address the needs that they relate to personally? It is natural for a politician to be inspired to help those in similar predicaments, but it is the mark of a true leader to help those who are not.
Universal health care is the only policy change that can positively affect the spectrum of health issues our society faces. On this topic, Palin and Giuliani are predictably cynical. During the debate, Palin said, “I don’t think that it’s going to be real pleasing for Americans to consider health care being taken over by the feds.” Giuliani argued during his presidential campaign that the successful treatment of his cancer would have been less likely in a country with a national health care system. His assertions, relying on inaccurate statistics, were widely refuted.
Luckily, New York City has benefited from officials who embraced the need for broad access to health services. Former Mayor David Dinkins helped create the Primary Health Care Development Corporation, an organization that helps bring health services where they are most needed. Today, it is a robust organization that helps address many needs, providing assistance for children with special needs, screening for prostate cancer and performing many other important health care services.
It is critical that our politicians realize that whether we can relate to them matters far less than whether they can represent all of us.
Helen Rosenthal worked at the NYC Office of Management and Budget helping to oversee the health care budgets during the Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani administrations. She is currently Chair of Community Board 7.
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