The United States is a global leader when it comes to defending rights for disabled people. The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, was considered landmark at the time for the civil rights protections it provided.
ADA remains the gold standard. The United Nations used it as a model for its U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a treaty that states nations should strive to afford disabled individuals the same rights and freedoms as everybody else. The treaty has been ratified by 126 countries.
This week, the treaty was before the U.S. Senate for its approval. The treaty was negotiated by President George W. Bush and signed by President Barack Obama. It had the support of disability groups, veterans groups and no less a spokesman than Bob Dole.
The former Senate majority leader from Russell, who fought tirelessly to pass the original ADA and now was lobbying for the U.N. treaty, was on the Senate floor Tuesday when the roll call vote was taken.
The wheelchair-bound Dole didn't stay there long, as 38 senators voted against ratification. Sixty-six votes were needed; the measure garnered 61. The no votes included both of Kansas' Republican senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.
Moran's vote was particularly surprising. Just a few months ago, the former Hays resident said the treaty advanced "fundamental values by standing up for the rights of those with disabilities, including our nation's veterans and servicemembers."
But when it came time to stand up for the estimated 650 million disabled people worldwide, Moran voted no.
His statement simply said: "Genuine concerns raised by the language of this treaty ... have made it clear that foreign officials should not be put in a position to interfere with U.S. policymaking."
Roberts apparently had indicated earlier he would support passage, but offered no explanation why he changed his mind.
The national sovereignty issue was raised by others who voted no. Some were merely voting against the U.N. Others were concerned about having anything about reproductive rights in the treaty, as well as the use of the phrase "best interest of the child." Homeschoolers didn't want foreign bureaucrats suggesting educational approaches for disabled children. Still others simply didn't want to ratify treaties during lame-duck sessions.
We can't help but wonder why such fearmongering didn't persuade Bob Dole? Or Sen. John McCain? Sen. Dick Lugar? Former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh? Or any of the eight Republicans, 51 Democrats and two independents who voted to approve the treaty?
Because all of them understand the treaty would not do anything that doesn't already exist in our own laws. They know states rights aren't affected, nor can anything but non-binding resolutions come out of any committee the U.S. creates to facilitate the treaty. They know the rest of the world should follow the American example of non-discrimination against peoples with disabilities. It should be a moral duty.
The treaty can always resurface in the Senate at a later date. We would hope it does. But we'll be equally sorry if Bob Dole isn't around to witness his beloved country taking the rightful lead on such a fundamental human-rights issue.
It's too bad Dole's former colleagues and mentees don't feel the same way.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry