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Evans: The rich, the poor and the struggle with Multiple Sclerosis

BY BENJAMIN EVANS | AUGUST 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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I care very little about the Republican National Convention — in fact, I don’t care at all.

Nothing of significance gets done, and the conventions have become ceremonial more than anything else.

But when re-watching the MSNBC coverage of the prime-time speeches while reading at my desk, I came upon news anchor Lawrence O’Donnell’s analysis (if we are going to use that word) of Ann Romney’s speech and immediately threw The Great Gatsby at the screen.

O’Donnell started with reckoning himself a sort of expert when it comes to “these conventions” and quickly pivoted to Romney’s speech, saying he “was surprised that she tried to relate to women by talking about women’s struggles in this economy and in life that she actually, in her life, doesn’t know anything about.”

O’Donnell then went on to paint Romney as a woman who never needed any government support and therefore does not know anything about true struggles in life, economically or in general.

Let’s put aside the fact that traditionally in a presidential campaign, that’s what the spouse of a candidate does: relate to women in the way a male candidate cannot. Let’s put that aside and unpack the awesome dedication to manipulation it takes to tell the American public that a person who is economically secure doesn’t know anything about struggle.

Ann Romney has multiple sclerosis.

Relatively little is known about this disease except the debilitating lesions that sprout up on the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, leading to such symptoms as numbness in the limbs, paralysis, loss of vision, fatigue, balance problems, bladder dysfunction, vertigo, sexual dysfunction, intense pain, loss of cognitive function, depression, migraines, seizures, and speech disorders.

Let me give you an example of an everyday MS symptom.

A 19-year-old boy is telling his mother good morning but finds she is barely conscious. She is unable to control her speech, so she is slurring her words. This is normal for the morning, so the boy thinks nothing of it, until the mother tries to make her way to the bathroom. She is unable to control her legs and almost falls, but the boy grabs her in time. She is unable to control her bladder, so she begins to urinate on the white linoleum, while crying because she doesn’t want her son to see her in such a state. 

This is considered a mild day for MS symptoms.

The other issue with these symptoms is that they are simply unpredictable and vary from one case to another. Though we don’t officially know what kind of MS Romney has, the most common form is a relapsing-remitting course.

People with this type of MS experience attacks or relapses, in which their neurological functioning is severely worse than when they are in remission.

Let me give you another example. A 10-year old boy and his father are sitting in front of the television one evening watching the news, when the boy’s mother drags her body into the room, unable to speak, legs like jelly, and pain like hot nails being driven into the soles of her feet.

The father lays her flat on the couch, and the boy, unable to do anything, sits by her for something like 20 minutes, grasping her limp hand as her eyes dart from side to side. She is unable to speak, she is unable to move, and she is trapped inside her body until the disease lets her go, and she is able to function again.

That is a relapse of MS.

O’Donnell is aware of Romney’s condition — he did a segment on it during his MSNBC show on June 18 in which he addressed Mitt Romney’s comments that riding horses, particularly dressage, has been therapeutic to Ann Romney’s health.

“There are a lot of things you can do to try to deal with MS,” said the cable news anchor. “But come on. Dressage does not appear in any of the more traditional courses of treatment. And if it’s true that dressage is how wildly rich people deal with this very difficult mental-health problem, then why, why does the horse appear on Mitt Romney’s tax return as a business expense.”

OK, I’m a little tired of liberals yelling at conservatives because some Republicans want to see President Obama’s birth certificate, then turning around and demanding to see Mitt Romney’s tax returns — it’s a little hypocritical and it makes them look petty.

But that’s a different issue. Here, O’Donnell tried to shroud Ann Romney’s chosen therapy as a luxury.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society describes physical therapy, with a particular emphasis on strength, balance, and posture as essential in combating the disease’s symptoms.

“The ultimate goal is to achieve and maintain optimal functioning and prevent unnecessary complications such as de-conditioning, muscle weakness from lack of mobility, and muscle contractures related to spasticity,” said the society’s website.

And so comes the issue of dressage, or what O’Donnell alleges “how wildly rich people deal with this very difficult mental health problem …”

In dressage, the rider uses his weight, legs, and seat to influence the horse, as stated by the U.S. Dressage Federation. In order to do this correctly, the rider has to be “aligned and balanced.”

Asking a person with MS to be aligned and balanced is sort of like asking a person to stand up straight on a bed of broken glass, holding 50-pound sacks of potatoes.

So, does it require strength, balance, and posture? I’d think so.

But that’s not the bigger picture. The bigger picture is people, such as O’Donnell, who subscribe to the idea that if you are rich you have no problems, or you don’t have the same caliber of problems as someone who is poor.

Ann Romney can escape from her disease in any way she damn well pleases, and her actions to fend off the monster that is MS should not be judged by anyone.

If it takes a stupid horse to get her better, then you get a horse. You don’t stop and say, “How the hell am I going to get a tax write-off for this thing?” you get the best horse you can, because you are helpless against this disease. You get the horse because you can’t do anything else.

The Romneys are rich — I’d imagine they could afford a pretty good horse. But at the end of this conversation, rich or poor, a person is fighting against the same disease.

My father is not rich. My mother has MS, and there is nothing my father would not buy or would not do to help her in any way possible. There is nothing I would not do to help her in any way possible.

Did Ann Romney need government assistance? No. But, does she have struggles some people with less money don’t have? Yes.

The more money you have in your bank account does not mean you have fewer problems. And the next time someone like O’Donnell says so, feel free to throw a book at him.


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