Disabling vote on rights of disabled

December 5, 2012 

The U.S. Senate’s narrow rejection, by five votes, of a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled was a preposterous bow to extreme foolishness.

Although many listed a fallback position of not wanting to approve a treaty during the lame duck session – a bogus excuse, as other treaties have been ratified during such sessions – most of the 38 Republican senators who cast “no” votes Tuesday claimed the treaty might trespass on U.S. sovereignty and/or on the rights of home-schoolers.

Treaty supporters convincingly rebutted both claims. The U.N. measure, already ratified by 126 other countries, is modeled on our own Americans with Disabilities Act. It requires no changes in U.S. laws. Its main practical effect would be to encourage other nations to improve their own accommodations for the disabled, including disabled Americans who travel abroad.

Disabilities and veterans groups supported the treaty. It was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration and, in the Senate on Tuesday, its passage was urged by former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a disabled World War II veteran. Dole came to the Senate floor in a wheelchair pushed by his wife, former North Carolina Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Not good enough for the 38 Republicans, including Sen. Richard Burr of Winston-Salem. Burr cited concern over possible intrusion by bad-actor foreign governments into American affairs, a fear treaty supporters called groundless. Credit Burr with a strong stomach, to vote as he did with Mr. and Mrs. Dole right there before his eyes.

In our politics there’s long been a strain of suspicion of foreigners. It’s not always wrong, but we gain far more from treaties – from spreading the rule of law – than we lose. Surely that’s the case with the disabilities measure. But reflexive tea party antipathy to the United Nations – an organization mainly founded by the U.S. – ruled the day.

This was not just paranoia. In raising the ridiculous specter of Cuban inspectors at American home schools, these folks are acting like scaredy cats.

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