As Colonel Kurtz said at the end of Apocalypse Now: “the horror, the horror.” That sentiment encapsulated New York Times Republican David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields’ reactions to the rejection of the UN treaty on the rights of the disabled in the Senate last week. Brooks called it “embarrassment for the country” – while Shields called it “a profile in cowardice.” Regardless, it seems that both men forget that we have a similar bill called The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed under George H.W. Bush.
During the segment, which aired on December 7, NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff decided to end her interview with Brooks and Shields on this point:
JUDY WOODRUFF: We have about only 20 seconds, but one of the moves in the Senate among these conservatives was to deny the U.N. treaty on the rights of persons with disabilities. How does something like that happen?
DAVID BROOKS: It's an embarrassment for the country. This was a treaty that could have given Afghan vets who have lost limbs the greater ability to go abroad and live with dignity. And to do it for black helicopter reasons, to vote against this, it is an embarrassment.
MARK SHIELDS: You have heard of a profile in courage. This was. It really was, I mean, Republicans who are terrified of a primary, of a challenge on their right. And so they come up with this bogus explanation or theory about blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers coming into homeschooling parents and ripping their child away, having disembarked from the black helicopters. It's a total fabrication. And to do it as Bob Dole sat there on the Senate floor asking for their support is a travesty.
In a segment that dealt mostly with the fiscal cliff, it seems odd that one would offer "2o seconds" on such a topic if not to bash Republicans. (Did Woodruff reserve 20 seconds because she knew both would passionately agree?) The NewsHour has failed to spend more than these 20 seconds on this treaty. It has no time for the arguments of conservatives. like former Sen. Rick Santorum, who argued "there is not a clear definition of “disability” in the treaty, which means some committee at the U.N. will decide after ratification who is covered." Instead, it's another opportunity for David Brooks to parade his own progressive instincts around.
In this brief denunciation, PBS did not observe that this isn’t the end of the treaty. It’s probably going to be put up for a vote next year. Nevertheless, to smear conservatives, like Brooks and Shields did, as being fearful of “black helicopters” and “blue helmets” is unmitigated hyperbole, which doesn’t help anyone in this matter. Neither spent a second on the fact that we have a bill, an American bill, which ensures that the disabled are afforded a wide scope of civil rights.
In 2008, George W. Bush expanded the ADA, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said:
The day, 18 years ago, when President Bush’s father signed the original Americans with Disabilities Act into law was the proudest day of my Senate career. But this day comes close, because this new law overturns Supreme Court decisions that have taken away the rights of people with disabilities, and restores the original promise and protections of the ADA.
“I think of my brother Frank, who was deaf, and who suffered terrible discrimination and exclusion, and I think of millions of other Americans with disabilities who face similar obstacles. As chief Senate sponsor of both the original ADA and this new ADA restoration act, I am deeply gratified that we could work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that all Americans have the right to equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.”
Since the ADA became law in 1990, a series of court decisions narrowed the category of who qualifies as an “individual with a disability,” contrary to Congressional intent. By raising the threshold for an impairment to qualify as a disability, these court decisions have deprived individuals of the discrimination protections Congress intended to provide. The ADA Amendments Act would remedy this problem and restore workplace protections to every American with a disability.
Independent nations have the right and duty to protect their most vulnerable citizens, which the United States has done with the Americans with Disabilities Act since 1990. To omit this piece of legislation within the broader confines of this discussion is egregious in the extreme.