Who Could Possibly Oppose a Pact Aiding the Disabled? Take a Guess.

I have four words for you: United Nations and Bob Dole.

Hey, don’t nod off. This is a great under-the-radar story, replete with right-wing paranoia and senatorial dysfunction.

It’s about how conservative Republicans continue to embarrass America by blocking Senate ratification of a U.N. treaty that’s designed to help disabled people.

Conservatives hate the treaty because they believe (without any factual evidence) that it threatens American sovereignty. They also hate the treaty because they hate the U.N. and somehow believe that the U.N. is a plot to sap our precious bodily fluids.

Which is why Senate conservatives banded together in December ’12 and killed American ratification. The treaty passed 61-38, but fell shy of the required two-thirds. A key killer was Rick Santorum, ex-senator turned outside agitator, who somehow believes (without any factual evidence, natch) that the pact would prevent American parents from home-schooling their kids.

But maybe ratification isn’t totally dead after all. Yesterday, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pact backers fans launched a new campaign, voting 12-6 to try again on the Senate floor - even though the quest to join the rest of the world is probably doomed. 

The new ratification bid is long overdue, because support for the treaty is bipartisan. It was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration in 2006, and it has since been ratified by 147 nations, including our major western allies. It’s modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, the 1990 law signed by the senior George Bush (who said, “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down”). The treaty's goal is to protect the rights of the disabled worldwide by channelling the spirit of the ADA – in other words, to help other nations be more like us. (Gee, I always thought the Republican right wanted other nations to be more like us.)

John McCain supports ratification. Three of his Senate Republican colleagues concur. More than 700 disabilities, business, and veterans groups (including the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America), concur as well. But, hey, it’s like what Jon Stewart once said: Most Republicans “hate the United Nations more than they like helping people in wheelchairs.”

Which brings us to Bob Dole.

You may remember Dole (bad presidential candidate, current old guy). Back in his ‘90s heyday, as Senate Republican leader, he was often described as a nasty partisan. But today, when measured against your standard new-breed Senate Republican, he's like a flaming lefty. Confined to a wheelchair at age 91, and having struggled with physical limitations since being wounded in World War II, he has doggedly pushed for treaty ratification.

His worst moment was during that December ’12 vote. He was wheeled onto the Senate floor, as an honored guest, and had to watch his party torpedo the treaty. Now he’s pushing again (as best he can, health-wise), but among Senate Republicans he can’t compete with the key players in the paranoia lobby.

Santorum, for instance. He was thrown out of the Senate in an ’06 landslide, but, in his ongoing quest for relevance, he’s still skilled at ginning up right-wing fear. What the heck, it keeps him in the game. On the Hill yesterday, he buttonholed Republicans, inveighing anew against the treaty. (A great tweet yesterday, from Buzzfeed’s Kate Nocera: “Things that make me LOL - Santorum pausing and looking around as he left the Senate just in case anyone wanted to interview him.”)

The treaty is non-binding. It specifically states that it shall have no impact on American law. Nevertheless, Santorum’s fear – and if you can follow this argument, good luck – is that the treaty will somehow compel the government, rather than parents, to decide what’s in the best interest of a disabled child. And that the government may therefore decide some day that such a child should not be home-schooled. Even though, in real life, the U.N. can't tell America to do anything.

And let’s not forget the right’s hatred of the U.N. Republican politicians have long been mining that emotion. Back in 2010, the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Colorado claimed that Denver’s Democratic mayor was bent on “converting Denver into a United Nations community” – all because the mayor was promoting a bike-sharing program. Meanwhile, in 2012, Ted Cruz (of course it was Ted Cruz) claimed repeatedly that the U.N. wants to “abolish” golf courses on American soil.

This is the kind of stuff that passes for deep thought in the fever swamp; nevertheless, most Republican senators owe their jobs to fever-swamp voters. Which means that the odds for ratification approximate the odds of the '14 Phillies morphing into the ’27 Yankees.

An exasperated Bob Dole told Politico, “I don’t know what the problem is with the Republicans.” But we know, Bob. We surely do.

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Copyright 2014 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

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