Me and George Will

So far today George Will's op-ed about his son, Jon, has been forwarded to me five times.  Given that I am in the midst of grading and really, really out of touch with the world, I appreciate the fact that I have friends and family members looking out for me.  I'm sort of surprised I haven't gotten it more times, given that Jon Will has Down syndrome, and that's what the article is about.  Tomorrow is Jon Will's 40th birthday.

There's a lot of stuff I don't love about this particular article.  Some of the rhetoric is troublesome:  I resist the word "defect" being used in any context with Down syndrome, and I certainly never use the term "mental retardation" (and neither should any of you readers!  We say intellectual or cognitive disability now).  I think it's interesting that George Will frames his son Jon as imperfect, in a way that he implies his other children aren't.  I'm sure all his children are imperfect, because they're all human.  More importantly, my views of prenatal testing and abortion are quite a bit more complex than George Will's.  I'm no fan of the 90% abortion rate he makes mention of, but I'm also not somebody who sees abortion as the killing of children, and I believe that women must absolutely have the right to control their reproduction.

But the thing that's really interesting is that, because of Down syndrome, I'm actually able to find points of connection with George Will that I suspect I wouldn't find in any other context.  He makes some very nice points that I agree with, as when he says,

In 1972, people with Down syndrome were still commonly called Mongoloids.

Now they are called American citizens.
He also ends his article with the image of Jon at Nationals Park, at a Caps game, "just another man, beer in hand, among equals in the republic of baseball."  As my friend Claire pointed out, this is an image that works against so many of the infantalizing images we have of adults with intellectual disabilities.  I like it.  And as I shared with Claire this morning, one of the very early hopeful pieces we read shortly after Maybelle was born was an article by George Will about Jon, in which he expresses his pride that Jon voted for Bill Clinton.  His son, he made clear, is a person in the world who has his own opinions--opinions which might be radically different than his father's.  It's been nearly four years since Biffle read that piece to me, and I still remember it.

It's so easy to be divided.  It's so easy for us--whatever "us" you want, scholars or thinkers or citizens or folks living in a country together--to get polarized and to stop listening to one another.  We become stereotypes or soundbytes.  I'm grateful for the fact that disability gives me a way to step out of that polarization.

George Will and I have very little in common.  But we're both parents of people with Down syndrome, and I suspect that's enough to open a little crack in the door that would make it possible to talk to one another as people rather than being boxed in by the political stereotypes we have of one another (well, to be frank, I doubt that George Will has that many stereotypes of me, but you know what I mean).


Elizabeth said...

I haven't read the piece, and I just don't think I'm in the mood right now to read anything by George Will, EVEN if it's about disability. I know that's not very generous of me, but, there, I've said it. I'll take you at your word, though!

Anonymous said...

Oh, c'mon, give the man a break. He meant well and he shed some light on the public's understanding regarding those with Down syndrome of which many individuals aren't aware. George WIll is old enough to be your father and if he was a little promiscuous in his youth, he could be of the age of your grandfather, for goodness sakes. Fact: He is of a different generation than you. Why must you deconstruct his article? George obviously meant well and was sharing a personal side of himself and his son that many, like myself, enjoy learning about. Mr. WIll's perspective regarding the life his son lives, as well as both his views and those of his son's, on contemporary politics through his columns and frequent national television appearances, are interesting to a broad range of people that far exceed those who possess a Liberal perspective. Because he is an outspoken and articulate pundit of conservative matters has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with his article today in the Post and Courier as I see it. However, per my count, you were apparently compelled to twice point out that your views regarding politics (implied) and Will's were at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Yes, there are people out here in cyberspace who read your and Walter's blog who do not agree with you highly judgmental call regarding whether potential parents should or should not kill their viable offspring AT WILL without taking into consideration the viability of the fetus's survival outside the mother's womb, but that's not the reason for my choosing to respond to your post. Alison, you seem absolutely astounded that you have found a connection with George Will, a fellow intellectual, who happens to have a different world-view from yours and, probably, to a lessor degree, Walter's. LIke your previous apparent softening stance regarding understanding Charleston and it's citizenry and your recognition that there are people here with brains and compassion who are not militant activists like you, I am impressed that you have acknowledged that you may have a teenie-weenie chink in your armor regarding having a common interest with George Will, who dares to not have the same world view that you've embraced for whatever reason, early on in your life. Polarization is a choice not like homosexuality but still a choice...thinking people can choose to listen, to be empathetic, to be rational or they can choose not to...it is THEIR choice! I'm happy to see that you're willing to look beyond dogma and prejudice and be sufficiently open-minded to consider, that George Will and those like him are actually human, too. Beyond the commonality of having a Down syndrome child as George has, I suspect, intellectually, you might have much more common ground on which you and he could stand with more of a willingness if you were simply a bit more open-minded to let more sun shine in...I would be shocked if George wasn't equally open-minded, too. You are aware that he owns a place on Kiawah Island, are you not, and that he even has been known to attend minor league baseball games here in Charleston at the "Joe." Yes, you have more than one connection with the very intelligent, well-bred (academically), and dedicated conservative that you haven't considered, you both have a "Low Country Connection," check it out...you might find that you can become fast friends with another. George could be a connection of a lifetime for you. He is a fine man and he has been where you are academically and parentally.

Anonymous said...

Elisabeth, you, too, ought to consider opening your mind and being a bit more open-minded about those not possessing your particular world-view. I might add, that you're right though, you're not being generous, but that's your choice, of course.

Anonymous said...

In the third sentence from the end of the above diatribe, I have a meaningful typo, actually a word I left out, to wit: "..you might find that you can become fast friends with ONE another.

And, another: "..Yes, there are people out here in cyberspace who read your and Walter's blog who do not agree with YOUR highly"....etc., etc.

Sorry about that.

Cindy said...

Alison, you and I outwardly have nothing in common except the fact that we have both had abortions. Because of my experience, I am now a staunch supporter of pro-life causes. I am a conservative Christian, a stay at home mom who all but gave up my ER Nursing career to stay home with my kids. I drive a mini van, vote Republican (mostly!) and live in the country.
That being said, I enjoy your blog not because I agree with most things you write about, actually, I mostly disagree with everything. BUT, it gives me pause to think about and look at and challenge what I really do believe. For that I appreciate yours and Biffle's writings here. Oh, and I find Maybelle adorable and love following her stories and adventures!
Funny thing about "Anonymous" post is that "Anonymous" isn't "anonymous" at all! We are all very familiar with "anonymous"!

krlr said...


OK, confession time: I have a soft spot for George Will. It's not just the occasional bow tie, or his son, Jon – it’s that the rest of the pack tends to spew frothy nastiness to the lowest common denominator and he seems (at least on Sunday mornings) to be a rational voice playing to the smart crowd. Makes me despair for the country a bit less.

krlr said...

...not that I agree with him, of course, but I'm confident he wouldn't end up calling me a slut if I wanted to discuss the finer points of taxation policy w/him.

Amanda said...

I like the concept of "cracks in the door" where people can communicate with each in spite of and alongside their differences. One my aunts - a raving liberal - wished her cousin - a raving conservative - a Happy Birthday today on Facebook. They xoxo-ed each other, and I laughed out loud because mainly they scream at each other. But there are usually points of fondness and agreement even among people with vastly differing world views. I'm learning that right now as a member of the Class of Leadership Charleston 2012 (mainly conservative group). If we can figure that out as community members, then maybe we can pass some of that spirit along to our political representatives.

Elizabeth said...

Anonymous: At your provocation, I laid aside my lack of generosity and read George Will's sweet post about his son. That's all it was to me -- sweet -- nothing earth-shattering there, nothing that stands out particularly and certainly nothing that "bonds" me with him despite our differences in politics. As the mother of a child with far more severe disabilities than Down Syndrome, I didn't look to that op-ed for advice or illumination and know countless parents who have written quite similar thoughts. As far as your dress-down of Alison, methinks thou dost protest too much. I found her thoughts and honesty articulating them quite interesting and disagree that we must always find commonality with others, no matter the political persuasion.

Alison said...

Okay, I should finally weigh in here. Several of you have had thoughtful comments.

Elizabeth: I don't think you have to be generous enough to read George Will (even though you've now done so). You're right that we certainly don't have to "bond with" or even find commonality with everybody. The occasional point of connection is nice.

Cindy, I LOVE that you read this blog and often weigh in! I value your opinion and am always pleased when I've written something that interests you, given that our opinions are so different.

Amanda, I'd love to hear more about the Class of Leadership 2012. Are you going to blog about it?

Anonymous, you've had so much to say here that I encourage you to start your own blog. I also want to say that I agree that polarization is a choice, but homosexuality isn't. Come on now.

Meeting George Will would be really interesting!

And finally, krlr: can I call you a slut for wanting to discuss the finer points of tax policy? (That was a joke, in case that didn't come through to all readers.)

Biffle said...

@Anon: I've thought about your comment here quite a bit, and I have a question. To wit:

Have you ever ventured North of Broad past ten pm?

Anonymous said...

Ok, I'll follow Allison's lead on form though I have difficulty speaking in brief phrases.
First, Walter: Yes, I venture above Broad but I avoid North of Calhoun even during daylight except for an occasional visit to Moe's or Five Loaves. Never on foot as I'm too old to handle any unexpected surprise.
Elizabeth: I'm gratified you were so provoked. Besides generosity, you laid aside preconceived notions re Will and discovered a side opposite his punditry. Regardless, your evaluation was spot on and it was as I implied. George was merely musings; nothing provocative intended by him or me. Finding commonality on purpose or accidently isn't a requirement of living, it's just a blessing when two human beings on their random journal through life sometimes find a connection which is mutually rewarding whether sought or not.
Alison: Not sure what you meant by "come on now." If it was to the metaphorical reference made to homosexuality perhaps it was a poor choice but the point remains, polarization is a choice whereas homosexuality, for most, is not. Tending a blog isn't for me.