Let’s suppose someone wants to run for public office who, at one time, had been entirely paralyzed, with no ability to communicate. Since that point, many years ago, he has been healed, but the public wonders if he might transgress and again become afflicted, which may actually be possible with his particular condition. Now, maybe such a condition doesn’t actually exist, but I can imagine that it might. But, would the majority of people not defend this man’s right to run for public office, and perhaps even defend his candidacy as legitimate?
This past week, Aaron Commey, the Libertarian Party’s candidate for Mayor of New York City, found himself under a barrage of criticism – not only from local news outlets, but also from people nationally (perhaps even internationally). Many used him as a point to laugh at regarding the ability of a third party to mount legitimate challenges, and many libertarians groaned and lamented that the party could not do better at putting up a candidate than Commey. His candidacy has been deemed by many as illegitimate and absurd. The reason is that some 17 years ago, he suffered from a particularly bad episode of mental illness that caused him to believe he was the sole hero in the defense against an evil cabal and his beliefs prompted him to carry out a hijacking of a plane.
In the 17 years since Commey’s mental health crisis, he has sought out and received treatment. His condition is drastically improved, according to many reports, and he no longer poses a danger to the public. Reading many of his public writings, and listening to him in an interview, he seems like a pretty normal person who happens to be running for a public office. I don’t know Mr. Commey. I’ve never met him, and I only know what details have been published about him recently, as well as only read a few items he published on his Facebook page and viewed a short excerpt of an interview. I’m not defending him directly, so much as I am writing about something I think is worthy of consideration.
Mental illness is just that. It is an illness. The human brain is an organ of the body like any other organ that can be attacked by illness and disease and can be treated and healed in the majority of circumstances. Just like any other illness, sometimes treatment works extremely well, and sometimes it fails. However, for some odd reason, many people view mental illness as somehow different from other illnesses. They view it as something permanent, something that marks a person as incapable of possessing reason and cognitive ability forever. If an illness in any other part of the body can be healed sufficiently to allow a person to serve in a public capacity, then why not the human brain?
As recently as the early 20th century, people viewed the mentally ill as less than human, and visited mental health facilities as a sort of zoo – to marvel at the bizarre behavior of poor souls whose sin was to be the recipient of a disorder. It wasn’t until the late 70s, mostly, that mental illness was really recognized as something that could be effectively treated, and even healed. Much of the stigma and prejudices remain regarding mental health. It’s still a form of disease and illness that the majority of the public finds unacceptable, and many still view the mentally ill as sort of half-humans. However, the mentally ill are human beings, and they deserve the same respect and defenses of their liberties as anyone else. An effectively treated and healed person who has battled mental illness should be received in the same manner as anyone who has defeated any other illness.
If there is a place to find a fervent defense of the liberties of those who have battled mental health issues, it should be found with libertarians. It would make sense that libertarians would support the efforts of anyone who wants to further their cause and has the ability to do so. Set aside the case of Mr. Commey for a moment. If a person wanted to run for office and had overcome severe physical disabilities, would libertarians not decide whether to support him based upon his political stances rather than his battle with illness? Perhaps the same treatment should be extended to those who have battled mental illness and are winning that battle, but also happen to be fighting the same battle for liberty that libertarians fight. Much mental illness is treatable, people can be healed to some degree or another, and all people are born with inalienable rights and liberties that must be protected – illness or types of illness being irrelevant.