Yes, Mark Kirk Is Disabled, But He’s Also the Best Candidate for Illinois

“Politics ain’t bean-bag.”

That expression has long been used to describe the rough-and-tumble nature of politics, which has long been dominated by negative ads and underhanded tactics in an attempt to gain an edge.

It dates back to 1895, when Mr. Dooley—a fictional Irish bartender that author Finley Dunne used as a prop to express unpopular views—pontificated it from his Chicago pub. “Sure, politics ain’t bean-bag,” Dooley proclaimed. “Tis a man’s game, an’ women, children, cripples an’ prohybitionists’d do well to keep out iv it.”

Of course, anything approaching that sentiment today would be roundly, and rightfully, denounced as ignorant and derogatory. After all, you need look no further than this presidential race to understand that women are just as capable of men at playing the political game. And yet today the Chicago Tribune engaged in a shocking cheap shot aimed at Sen. Mark Kirk, a Republican Senate candidate up for reelection in Illinois, who also happens to be a stroke survivor.

The Tribune, who endorsed Kirk’s opponent—Rep. Tammy Duckworth—had a shockingly blunt reason for making their decision. The editorial board writes:

While a stroke by no means disqualifies anyone from public office, we cannot tiptoe around the issue of Kirk’s recovery and readiness. His health is a fundamental component of this race — a hotly contested matchup that could return control of the U.S. Senate to Democrats.

We aren’t physicians; Kirk’s doctor attests to his good cognitive health.

But we are voters. And our reluctant judgment is that, due to forces beyond his control, Kirk no longer can perform to the fullest the job of a U.S. senator. We are unable to endorse him for another six-year term.

The paper’s decision is shocking, but it’s also nonsensical. In 2010, the last time Kirk ran for office, the paper asked its readers to watch a video of each candidate’s interview with the editorial board to see the sharp contrast between the two.

“Judge each man’s depth and preparedness for the job. Judge knowledge and scope,” the board wrote. “Judge accomplishment. Judge which candidate has a proven record of thoughtful independence – of bucking his party when the good of this nation is at stake. You won’t have difficulty making these judgments.”

Nothing has changed in the intervening six years. Kirk’s preparedness has grown, the result of a full term in the Senate. His knowledge hasn’t waned, it’s been sharpened by six years studying policy and passing legislation. And he’s proven himself to be his own man, using his time in the Senate to, among other things, support gay marriage, reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, be a thought leader on immigration reform, and fight for the Veteran’s Administration.

So what has changed? Not much, according to the Tribune, which admits that as “a socially moderate, fiscally conservative Republican,” “his positions mirror those of mainstream Illinois voters and, frankly, of this editorial page.” The only thing the paper can manage is that Kirk’s stroke, which left him in a wheelchair, leaves him somehow unable to “fulfill the multifaceted role” required of a U.S. Senator.

To mirror the paper’s bluntness, let’s call this what it is: Ableism. The paper is exhibiting discrimination and prejudice against a stroke survivor. The paper admits that they “aren’t physicians,” and that a doctor has attested to Kirk’s mental health, and yet the Editorial Board goes on to use thinly veiled language, such as the fact that they “did not see th[e] energetic, policy-driven” candidate they are used to. Of course not.

But what they would have seen, would they have looked behind his newfound disability, they would have seen the same ferocious advocate for his constituents as always. Kirk writes:

I’ll be the first to admit I cannot run as fast, jump as high or swim as quick as I used to. But each day I go to work fighting for Illinois families and I’m proud of my results.

And that’s all we stroke survivors can hope for — don’t judge us by our disability, judge us by our abilities. We are not handicapped, we are handicapable.

It’s frankly indescribable that the Chicago Tribune refused to see that.