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Should Mentally Disabled People Hold Political Offices?

That's the question that's being put to the test in the city of Ghent, Belgium. Didier Peleman, a 41-year old man with mental disability, has sparked a controversy whether a mentally disabled person should hold political office:

“I've been active in community work for 11 years. Our party's slogan is “Everyone is included” so I want to be given the chance to be councilor, to express myself and help people with disabilities,” Didier Peleman told RT's Tesa Arcila.

He says he wants to encourage voluntary social work and make the city more “accessible” to people with handicaps by promoting the use of “simple language”.

Didier's party argues that mentally disabled people are part of the community, and should have the chance to be represented in political offices. Critics, however, disagreed:

“If he's physically disabled it's not ridiculous, but he has mental disabilities so that's another question, he may have problems with reasoning,” one Ghent resident told RT.
“I think he's not capable of making decisions for other people. I do voluntary work myself with mentally disabled people. I've got a lot of respect for them, but they have to realize themselves that they are not able to do everything,” another shared.

RT has the story: Link

What do you think, Neatoramanauts? Should people with mental disability be excluded from holding political office?

Should Mentally Disabled People Hold Political Offices?



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The nature of the disability would have to be taken into consideration. "Let the voters decide" is not a reasonable answer, since voters are notoriously apathetic.
I don't think the issue here is mental illness, but mental disability. A disability means you don't have a particular ability. If you can, say, get out of a crime by being mentally unfit to stand trial, how can you be considered as capable of running for office?
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I don't think there's any way you can or should reasonably exclude everyone with a mental disability, and as another commenter pointed out, it's already happened. There are several cases of people in office suffering from alcoholism and other forms of addiction. And everyone experiences mental disability or mental health issues differently. Some might actually be helpful - for example some studies have shown that people who are depressed do better on math tests because the way their brain works supports greater focus.

The term "mental disability" in itself is also an issue. Some diseases like addiction or depression can be considered disabilities but not for everyone and they may not be chronic. The term also doesn't accurately capture brain injury-related disability or developmental disability, which can have physical and mental ramifications.

Basically, agree with Naomi - let the voters decide.
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This sounds great, but unfortunately doesn't work.

The politician's staff can deliberately conceal the nature and degree of their impairment. This is especially the case in so-called safe seats in single party districts. The politician runs unopposed and the staff keeps their jobs. My coworker called up his state representative who had been in office longer than I've been alive. He was shocked when the rep actually answered the phone. He was even more shocked by the fact that the rep was exhibiting significant dementia. Halfway into the call, a staff member shooed the rep off the phone, apologized, and tried to whitewash everything.

For that matter I've heard several clinical psychologists express the opinion that psychopaths/sociopaths often have exactly the sort of personality traits that make good politicians or executives. They are charismatic, good an manipulation, and excel at social networking.

Not that I think there is necessarily anything wrong with someone who is mentally disabled holding office. It just depends on the disability. The term mental disability could reflect anything from dementia to dyslexia.
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In the modern media age, we learn an awful lot about political candidates if we take the time to pay attention to them. Setting a cutoff limit for intelligence isn't necessary, as an interested voting public can judge for themselves. But if you were to raise the idea of such a test, what else would you test for? After all, intelligence isn't the only factor that makes a good leader. You also have age (and some offices have limits on that), ethics, criminal record, education, judgment, physical health, mental health, experience, political leanings, policies, past performance, leadership abilities, management skills, etc etc, which all matter. Placing a cutoff limit on any of those things might bar someone who could be a good leader, depending on where you draw the lines. And you'd never be able to get people to agree on the lines. You have to judge the whole of a person as best you can before you cast your vote.
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