A proposal that, on the surface, is simply an extension of the Americans with Disability Act failed — thanks to fringe conspiracy theories
Due to Republican opposition, the Senate this week failed to ratify a United Nations treaty that seeks to protect the rights of disabled people around the world. The treaty, known as the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD) and negotiated by George W. Bush in 2006, would essentially make the Americans With Disabilities Act an international standard, requiring other signatories to implement laws preventing discrimination against the blind, AIDS patients, and wounded soldiers, among others. Before the vote, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), whose arm was shattered in World War II, was literally rolled out on the Senate floor in a wheelchair to voice his support for the treaty. Well, "it isn't Bob Dole's Senate anymore," says Meredith Shiner at Roll Call. Arguably, Senate Republicans were more swayed by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), who earlier in the week gave an impassioned speech calling on senators to vote "nay." So what were the GOP's objections to the treaty?
1. It violates U.S. sovereignty
"I do oppose the [CRPD] because I think it does impinge on our sovereignty," said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.). "Unelected bureaucratic bodies would implement the treaty and pass so-called recommendations that would be forced upon the United Nations and the U.S."
2. It would kill Rick Santorum's disabled child
The CRPD's "best interest of the child" standard "may sound like it protects children, but what it does is put the government, acting under U.N. authority, in the position to determine for all children with disabilities what is best for them," says Santorum at World News Daily. "In the case of our 4-year-old daughter, Bella, who has Trisomy 18, a condition that the medical literature says is 'incompatible with life,' would her 'best interest' be that she be allowed to die? Some would undoubtedly say so."
3. It's an attack on home-schoolers
"I and many of my constituents who home-school or send their children to religious schools have justifiable doubt that a foreign body based in Geneva, Switzerland, should be deciding what is best for a child at home in Utah," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
4. It would turn the U.S. into a socialist state
"The other thing that everybody in America will be living under is socialism as an international entitlement," said Michael Farris, a home-schooling activist who also spoke against the bill on the Senate floor. "We're signing up now for our first economic, social, and cultural treaty which means as a matter of international binding law that goes to the supremacy clause in our Constitution, we're signing up to be an official socialist nation, cradle-to-grave care for the disabled."
5. It would force the U.S. to pay for abortions
"The global community could force America to sanction sterilization or abortion for the disabled — at taxpayer expense," said Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, citing a treaty clause that requires signatories to provide disabled people health care in the areas of reproductive health.
As critics of these naysayers point out, there is no evidence to support any of these claims. The treaty would not impose any burdens that are not already contained in the American With Disabilities Act. If anything, the U.S. is imposing its laws on the international community. As an exasperated Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained, the whole point of the treaty is to tell the world: "Be more like us."
"To use the parlance of international relations scholars," says Daniel W. Drezner at Foreign Policy, the Republican position "is dumber than a bag of hammers."
To be fair, a handful of Republican senators, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), joined Democrats in supporting the treaty, though the 61-38 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for ratification. And it's unlikely that Republicans really bought what Santorum and hard-core conservative groups were selling. Many of these politicians probably voted it down to stave off a future primary challenge from the right in the spirit of self-preservation. Indeed, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who is up for re-election in 2014, "changed his vote from an 'aye' to a 'nay' after it was obvious the treaty would fall short of ratification," says Shiner.
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