Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a dec- orated war hero who was one of the architects of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, was wheeled onto the Senate floor to ask his former colleagues for support in ratifying an international treaty to protect the rights of the disabled worldwide.
Over the last six years, 124 nations have ratified the treaty. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration and he signed it as president in 2006. It was modeled after the ADA, which was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, and which made this nation a pioneer in recognizing the role that government can play in making the lives of disabled people better and more productive.
There was a day when Sen. Dole’s appearance would have been a mere formality, an opportunity to recognize the role that an elder statesman played in changing the lives of a generation of Americans who must cope with disabilities.
Times have changed
But now, in the politically poisoned atmosphere of 2012, Dole was there to plead for a handful of votes that would be needed to give the treaty the two-thirds margin it would need for passage.
Also on the Senate floor was another former member, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who made an impassioned call for rejection of the treaty. Santorum, the father of a disabled daughter, claimed that this treaty, if ratified, might somehow, someday be used to interfere with the rights of American families to home school their disabled children. Santorum came to this conclusion through a tortured reading of a simple sentence in the treaty that says, “In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Santorum characterized this as “offensive.”
Dole, a former majority leader who is now 89, had been quoted in the Washington Post as saying that the United States is “the world’s leader in disability progress, and this would give us a seat at the table.” He added, “We’d be able to help other countries, because some of the smaller countries are going to need some help.”
All things being equal — that is that both Dole and Santorum are Republicans, — one would think Dole’s argument would carry the day. Not these days.
The very words “United Nations” have become so toxic among some conservatives Republicans that nothing associated with the U.N. will get their support. On one hand, they complain that the U.N. accomplishes nothing; on the other they hypothesize that the U.N. is going to preempt the U.S. Constitutions in matters of parental rights or gun ownership or environmental policy.
Remarkably, only eight Republican senators found Dole persuasive. Thirty-eight, including Ohio’s Rob Portman, fell in line behind Santorum.
It was a sad day for the United States, which wants to project itself as a champion of the oppressed, the disadvantaged and the challenged. It was a sadder day for a party that had an opportunity to reaffirm this nation’s commitment to disabled people here and abroad, but chose instead to cower in fear of metaphoric black helicopters that could descend from the clouds over America cities, snatch up home-schooled children and take them away.