The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, advocated by former Republican Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and signed into law under President George Herbert Walker Bush, is widely acknowledged to be the international gold standard when it comes to the rights of disabled people. Its creation served as the genesis of a United Nations treaty -- the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities -- that has now been ratified by 125 countries.
Yet on Tuesday, Senate Republicans -- after paying their respect to Mr. Dole, 89, who came to the Senate floor in his wheelchair to advocate once again for the ADA's benefit on a global scale -- blocked the United States from becoming a member of this U.N. treaty by preventing a two-thirds vote in favor of ratification. Just eight Republicans, led by Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, voted to approve the convention. Among those against voting against were all of the South's senators, including Tennessee's Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander.
There is more than cruel irony in this defeat. The opponents' nay votes were pure, crass politics, a bow to Tea Party extremists who would pick a fight against a most noble cause just to prove their bona fides in the wake of November's stinging electoral defeat, which now is weakening GOP allegiance to Grover Norquist and his restive, no-tax-increase-ever Luddite faction.
Their sad, disgraceful rejection of the treaty is unfathomable, unless you believe in black helicopter conspiracies, and the groundless ritual fear of a U.N. takeover of Americans' brains, our children and our legal system.
President Obama signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities in 2009. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the bill last July on a bipartisan 13-6 vote. That vote came with a resolution -- just to make it clear -- that the United States would not surrender any sovereign authority under the convention, nor be compelled by any United Nations law, resolution or recommendation emerging from it.
In effect, the vote to ratify the treatment was actually just a vote to lend credibility to the Convention in order to spur greater respect for the disabled in countries that have not yet joined the treaty. That alone justifies ratification. But it is also a way to elevate and strengthen rights and protection for disabled Americans who visit or reside in countries where the needs of the handicapped are not accommodated.
That measure of concern, however, fell to the empty fear fanned by the far-right's media provocateurs, who continually need new fodder for their fear-fests and their paychecks. In this case, they fanned the notion that the convention could lead to codification of U.N. standards on the rights of children, and thus the outlandish fib that U.N. bureaucrats could intrude on states' authority over the rights of American children.
Such a conspiracy theory mindset is already at play in the wing-nut notion that the U.N.'s 1992 conference on a sustainable environment and its recommendations for environmentally sound policies -- known as Agenda 21, a reference to the needs of the 21st Century -- will override local land-use rules. Hence we have such believers here campaigning against our regional growth planning.
There's no convincing the black-helicopter crowd otherwise. But our United States senators should know better, and not be held captive to such wild-eyed views. Sens. Corker and Alexander certainly should be willing to stand up for an international treaty invoking respect and help for the disabled. It is shameful that they wilted and failed that duty.