By MARSHA MERCER
Four weeks after the GOP lost the White House and seats in both the U.S. Senate and House, Senate Republicans thumbed their noses at virtually every veterans group in the country.
They ignored the pleas of many disabled Americans and prominent war heroes in order to appease home schoolers, the Christian right and Tea Party types worried that “unelected foreign bureaucrats” are poised to push American parents around.
The Senate’s vote Tuesday rejecting the United Nations disabilities treaty crystallized why the GOP is the minority party and why, if it keeps on its current path, it’s likely to remain so.
All the Senate’s Democrats and eight courageous Republicans voted to approve the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but 38 Republicans said no. The 61 to 38 vote was five votes shy of the two-thirds needed to ratify a treaty.
What made the vote shocking is that the treaty was based on the long-established Americans with Disabilities Act. The vote should have been non-controversial.
Here’s Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass: “What this treaty says is very simple: It just says that people can’t discriminate against the disabled.
“It says other countries have to do what we did 22 years ago when we set the example for the world and passed the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Kerry said.
The treaty was a rare bipartisan effort -- endorsed by George H.W. Bush, negotiated by George W. Bush and signed by Barack Obama in 2009. The Chamber of Commerce and 328 groups representing the disabled and veterans supported it.
And yet it became a casualty in the American culture war.
Former senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum brought his daughter Bella, who was born in 2008 with a rare genetic disorder, as a prop to a Washington news conference. He claimed the United Nations would tell parents of disabled children what they could and couldn’t do.
“He either simply hasn’t read the treaty or doesn’t understand it or he was just not factual in what he said,” Kerry shot back on CNN.
Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas, 89, released from a hospital just a week earlier, made a special trip to Capitol Hill to appeal for the treaty. Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., pushed her husband’s wheelchair into the Senate chamber so he could talk to senators peronally.
Bob Dole is an authentic war hero. He suffered serious injuries in Italy in World War II and lost the use of his right arm. Senate approval of the treaty would have capped his lifetime crusade for the rights of the disabled.
Treaty critics were polite but unfazed. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., claimed the treaty would undermine United States sovereignty and allow “unelected foreign bureaucrats” to interfere with parents’ rights to decide what’s in the best interests of their disabled children.
“This would especially affect those parents who home-school,” Inhofe charged, although he conceded later it would not.
Opponents flooded their senators with emails. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said his office received 1,000 letters against and only 40 for the treaty. He warned that “international hypocrites will soon demand that the United States do this or that. Many other mischievous actions will certainly arise to bedevil our country.”
Kerry and other supporters insisted the treaty would not change American law or obligate the United States to do anything differently. Nor would it open the doors to federal courts. One thing it would do is improve conditions for disabled veterans and other disabled Americans who travel overseas.
Dan Berschinski, a West Point graduate whose legs were blown off in Afghanistan, wrote a moving op-ed in The Washington Post, urging the Senate to ratify the treaty to “improve the lives of our 56.7 million disabled U.S. citizens, including 5.5 million disabled veterans like me, when we travel and work abroad.”
Only by voting for the treaty, Berschinski wrote, can the Senate “truly honor the sacrifice of those disabled while answering this nation’s call.”
In the end, a minority of the Senate kept the United States from improving the lives of our disabled citizens or honoring our veterans’ sacrifices.
But, vowed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was injured as a POW in Vietnam, “This issue is not going away.”
Will the Senate do its duty by veterans and the disabled or will the GOP stay a minority party?
© 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.