Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Bob Dole and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Luke 14:12-14 

Robert Joseph “Bob” Dole was born on July 22, 1923 in Russell, Kansas. In high school he was star athlete, and the legendary coach Phog Allen recruited him to play on the basketball team at the University of Kansas. At Kansas he played football and ran track, as well as playing basketball. His pre-med studies were interrupted by World War II. He was serving as a Second Lieutenant in the Army’s Tenth Mountain Division in Italy when he was seriously wounded by machine gun fire in his back and right arm. After the war, he returned to college with his right arm almost totally useless, and switched to law, rather than medicine.

When we talk about the greatest generation, Bob Dole is one of the heroes.

He served in the United States Senate from 1968 until 1996, when he resigned to concentrate on running for President. Bob Dole was a fiercely partisan Republican, but he was also able to work across party lines and he never lost sight of the big picture. Among his many achievements was his advocacy for the “Americans with Disabilities Act,” which dramatically changed the participation of disabled Americans in society.

Bob Dole returned to the floor of the Senate earlier this week in a wheelchair to support adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The treaty asks the nations of the world to catch up with what George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole achieved for the United States twenty-two year ago.

It should have been a slam dunk. But these are crazy times. The Senators came by one-by-one to pat him on the back and wish him well, and then thirty eight of them voted to reject the treaty on the grounds that it was a threat to United States sovereignty. Even though the United Nations would have no enforcement role, and we already have everything called for in the treaty already in place.

Opponents argued that language in the treaty which called on the nations of the world to act “in the best interests of the child” might result in the killing of disabled children. Former Senator Rick Santorum brought his disabled daughter, Bella, to the Senate and asked rhetorically if some people might think it was in Bella’s best interest not to be alive.

The treaty does not call for international enforcement; it is about our intentions as a world community to respect persons with disabilities and encourage their participation in society.

Senator John Kerry, along with Senator John McCain, a forceful advocate for the treaty, said after the vote: “This is one of the saddest days I’ve seen in almost 28 years in the Senate, and it needs to be a wake-up call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.”

Kerry went on: “Today the dysfunction hurt veterans and the disabled, and that’s unacceptable. This treaty was supported by every veterans group in America and Bob Dole made an inspiring and courageous personal journey back to the Senate to fight for it. It had bipartisan support, and it had the facts on its side, and yet for one ugly vote, none of that seemed to matter. We won’t give up on this and the Disabilities Treaty will pass because it’s the right thing to do, but today I understand better than ever before why Americans have such disdain for Congress and just how much must happen to fix the Senate so we can act on the real interests of our country.”

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