COLLINS: Swerving hard right to avoid a U.N. threat
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 12:55 p.m.
Lately, you've probably been asking: “What ever happened to Rick Santorum? The guy who ran for president in the sweater vest? The one who compared homosexuality to bestiality and did 50 pushups every morning?” It's certainly been on my mind.
Santorum is still in there swinging. Lately, he's been on a crusade against a dangerous attempt by the United Nations to help disabled people around the world. This week, he won! The Senate refused to ratify a U.N. treaty on the subject. The vote, which fell five short of the necessary two-thirds majority, came right after 89-year-old Bob Dole, the former Republican leader and disabled war veteran, was wheeled into the chamber to urge passage.
“We did it,” Santorum tweeted in triumph.
Well, it doesn't get any better than that.
The rejected treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark law Dole co-sponsored. So, as Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts kept pointing out during the debate, this is a treaty to make the rest of the world behave more like the United States. But Santorum was upset about a section on children with disabilities that said: “The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
“This is a direct assault on us and our family!” he said at a news conference in Washington.
The hard right has a thing about the United Nations. You may remember that the senator-elect from Texas, Ted Cruz, once railed that a 20-year-old nonbinding U.N. plan for sustainable development posed a clear and present threat to U.S. golf courses.
The theory about the treaty on the disabled is that the bit about “best interests of the child” could be translated into laws prohibiting disabled children from being home-schooled. At his news conference, Santorum acknowledged that wasn't in the cards. But he theorized that someone might use the treaty in a lawsuit “and through the court system begin to deny parents the right to raise their children in conformity with what they believe.”
If I felt you were actually going to worry about this, I would tell you that the Senate committee that approved the treaty included language specifically forbidding its use in court suits. But, instead, I will tell you about own my fears.
Every day I take the subway to work, and I use a fare card that says “subject to applicable tariffs and conditions of use.” What if one of those conditions is slave labor? Maybe the possibility of my being grabbed at the turnstile and carted off to a salt mine isn't in the specific law, but what if a bureaucrat somewhere in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to interpret it that way? No one should have to live in fear of forced labor in the salt mine just because she bought a fare card at the Times Square subway station! I want some action on this matter, and I am writing to my senator right away.
But about the U.N. treaty.
In the Capitol this week, disabled Americans lobbied for ratification, arguing, among other things, that it could make life easier for them when they travel. Since more than 125 countries have already signed onto the treaty, there will certainly be pressure to improve accessibility to buses, restrooms and public buildings around the globe. It would be nice if the United States were at the table, trying to make sure the international standards were compatible with the ones our disabled citizens learn to handle here at home.
But, no, the senators were worried about the home-school movement. Or a boilerplate mention in the treaty of economic, social and cultural rights that Sen. Mike Lee of Utah claimed was “part of a march toward socialism.”
At least some of them were. There would almost certainly have been plenty of votes to approve the treaty if the Republicans had felt free to think for themselves. The “no” votes included a senator who had voted for the treaty in committee, a senator who had sent out a press release supporting the treaty and a senator who actually voted “aye” and then switched when it was clear the treaty was going down anyway. Not to mention a lot of really depressed-looking legislators.
The big worry was, of course, offending the tea party. The same tea party that pounded Mitt Romney into the presidential candidate we came to know and reject over the past election season. The same tea party that keeps threatening to wage primaries against incumbents who don't do what they're told. The tea party who made those threats work so well in the last election that Indiana now has a totally unforeseen Democratic senator.
The threat the Republicans need to worry about isn't in the United Nations.
Gail Collins is a columnist for the New York Times.
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