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The Invisible Hanging Chad


By Craig Maupin at

Several years ago, amidst the heat of a post-election dispute, the world was focused on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. In question was whether chads -- a term to depict the hanging pieces of paper on voting cards -- in Miami, Florida had been miscounted by outdated voting machines. Allegations were hurled that the election was miscounted, and a mesmerized nation waited to see whether or not an item as insignificant as “hanging chads” would be the final determining factor.

For years, chads, as well as the outdated voting machines that punched them, were the farthest things from the average political pundit’s mind. Yet, suddenly they became extremely important. In those frantic post-election days in 2000, I couldn’t help but wonder if our attention was being diverted from the true machinery of democracy. Democracy isn’t chads, and it isn’t vintage voting machines. It is people. Most importantly, it is how issues affect those people.

There will be another “hanging chad” this year. And just like the chads of yesteryear, it appears to have escaped political realm’s attention. This issue will probably not be the focus of the talking heads on shows like ‘Nightline’ or ‘Meet the Press’. Yet it is very real. It affects 500,000 to 1,000,000 Americans. I am talking about Chronic Fatigue and Immune Dysfunction Syndrome.

Lets be honest, the last few years simply have been disheartening when gauging the federal response to CFIDS. While Seabiscuit’s valiant race to the top helped to put a human face on CFIDS, educating much of the public on the illness’ personal cost, the political realm delivered nothing but indifference. CFIDS made its ways into the hallowed halls of power -- to the executive branch itself -- yet this didn’t seem to have an impact.

Government agencies once dedicated to necessary reform, suddenly reversed course with a litany of minor excuses. Many of those who suffer from the illness were convinced that the government’s refusal to consider reform was a symptom of its apathy. Funding for CFIDS was severely slashed; guaranteed research centers toppled. A NIH budget once at a paltry 12 million, an almost unheard of sum for a disabling illness affecting close to 1 million Americans, was slowly pared down to 6 million. Distinct and exclusive breakthroughs in immunology, hematology, and cardiology have yet to be followed up on with any resolve or commitment. Like many, I wish I could put a positive face on the regression. I just can’t. The regression is a symptom of indifference.

For many, this illness is the most important issue they or their families face. It has hurt them far more deeply than many in Washington realize. They have lost financial security, physical health, and the ability to live out their dreams. They have watched their children or spouses suffer. The resulting cost to both they and their families, makes CFIDS their primary concern at the polls. These costs have created a passionate group over a million strong who will be pulling the levers in November. That is enough passion, though often unnoticed, to turn elections.

If Washington looks closely, CFIDS can be seen interwoven in the fabric of American life. The illness can be seen in the eyes of children who live life on the sidelines, face misunderstanding from peers and teachers, and miss their chance to determine their future. It can be seen in the eyes of a best-selling author, who persevered for seven years through her disabling symptoms to write a story about a beloved racehorse. CFIDS can be seen in the impoverished stare of a person with no health insurance, huddled in a small apartment with little heat: waiting, hoping, for circumstances to change, hoping for the world to notice, hoping for the world to care. And while those eyes are often concealed from the political view, they are gauging Washington’s response.

Congress should realize. The executive branch, with its oversight of delegative agencies should also realize. There is a collective of eyes, eyes rarely seen or considered in Washington, which vote on one important issue -- one issue alone. Like the chads of yesteryear, these voters, their family, their friends, and their children, are often hanging by the slightest of threads. While Washington’s eyes often blankly stare right through them, indifferent and unaware, those oft-unnoticed eyes always have been looking back.