Opposition from Republican senators this week foiled an opportunity for the United States to lead the world in advocating for people with disabilities.
The Senate needed 66 votes to ratify a U.N. treaty that calls upon countries to ensure disabled citizens receive the same rights and freedoms as their able-bodied peers. Despite a visit in the Senate chamber from an ailing former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, it received only 61 votes.
The treaty, already ratified by 126 countries, calls on nations to live up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
As GOP Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran said in May, “Each person has the inherent right to life and should have the opportunity to pursue happiness, participate in society, and be treated equally before the law.”
But Moran, along with GOP Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, voted in opposition to the treaty Wednesday, as did Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.
At some point, Moran decided that “foreign officials should not be put in a position to interfere with U.S. policymaking,” as he said in a statement after the vote. Not that the treaty would do any such thing.
A spokeswoman for Roberts called the vote “a heartbreaking deal” because of Dole’s role, but said Roberts felt he had to listen to the many citizens who opposed the treaty.
Listening is essential, but senators must distinguish rational arguments from hysteria.
Opposition to the treaty was drummed up by far-right denizens like Rick Santorum and Glenn Beck, who claimed it would empower governments to tell parents how to care for disabled children. Other groups said it was really a call for more abortions.
None of that is true. Ratification would simply affirm the dignity and fair treatment of disabled people, including veterans. It would give the United States a chance to show its exceptionalism.
All of that should have appealed to Republicans. But as has been made painfully obvious, this is not Bob Dole’s Senate anymore.
This editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Thursday.