Senate Republicans put their paranoia about the United Nations ahead of party loyalty, common sense and, especially, sanity yesterday — and insulted their former leader and their party’s 1996 presidential nominee, disabled World War II veteran Bob Dole to his face — when they voted down a U.N. treaty on disabilities Dole supports while he was on the Senate floor with them yesterday.
The Senate killed the treaty this afternoon, with a final vote of 61 to 38, which seems like a lopsided majority, but which fell short of the two-thirds necessary for ratification. Eight Republicans broke ranks and joined Democrats in support of the treaty, but the clear majority of the Senate GOP voted to block it.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, for those who’ve forgotten, is a human rights treaty negotiated by the George H.W. Bush administration, which has been ratified by 126 nations, including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
But most Senate Republicans saw it as a threat to American “sovereignty,” even though the treaty wouldn’t have required the United States to change its laws. When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty with bipartisan support in July, Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) explained the proposal simply “raises the [international] standard to our level without requiring us to go further.”
In other words, we wouldn’t actually have to do anything except say we like the treaty — and then wait for other signatories around the world to catch up to the United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act.
One of the loudest voices in opposition to the treaty was another Republican former senator and failed presidential candidate, Rick Santorum (who is telling friends he is running for the 2016 nomination), who used his new gig as a columnist for a scurrilous white-nationalist, birther website to foment disinformation about the treaty:
The most offensive provision is found in Section 7 of the treaty dealing specifically with children with disabilities. That section reads:
“In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
“The best interest of the child” standard is lifted out of a controversial provision contained in the 1989 treaty called the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. That treaty was never ratified in large part because of this provision.
“The 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. That is counter to the current state of the law in this country which puts parents – not the government – in that position of determining what is in their child’s best interest. Under the laws of our country, parents lose that right only if the state, through the judicial process, determines that the parents are unfit to make that decision.
Santorum concludes that “there is no reason for our country to give up our sovereignty to the United Nations when it comes to providing benefits and protections for the disabled in America.”
But as Dana Milbank of the Washington Post explained last week, Santorum’s opposition is “from the dark world of U.N. conspiracy theories” and the treaty “requires virtually nothing of the United States. It essentially directs the other signatories to update their laws so that they more closely match the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
The fact that the Republican Party has moved far to the extreme of even Bob Dole ought to give moderate swing voters pause — if only they were paying attention to politics now, but, sadly, they are not. They’ve gone back to their real lives and will not tune again until late October 2016.