I've blogged on occasion about the development of a sovereigntist lobby that reflexively opposes all treaties because they erode U.S. sovereignty. For these people, any infringement on American sovereignty is a death blow to freedom, regardless of the benefits from joining. This kind of reflexive opposition has caused even stalwart groups on the right to cringe in embarrassment.
This hasn't slowed down the sovereigntists a bit, which led to a somewhat awkward day in the U.S. Senate:
Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.
A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.
The Cable's Josh Rogin has more on today's vote.
Now to be fair to the Republicans who voted "nay," you don't approve a treaty just because Bob Dole favors it. And to be more than fair, it's true that the United States has comparatively robust legislation in the form of the ADA and IDEA.
On the other hand, the point of this convention is to ensure that other countries start embracing the rules and standards codified by the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act -- you'd think most Republicans would be super-keen on other countries embracing principles of U.S. law. Furthermore, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supports the treaty, and I hear that Republicans are pro-business, so that is a bit confusing. I also read that "the treaty was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration," so, again, you can understand my confusion.
If you want to see the arguments against the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, click here, here, here, here, and here. As near as I can determine, critics don't like the treaty because... it's a treaty. Most of the objections are either bogus or unsubstantiated by practice. As Joshua Keating notes, "a perfectly reasonable treaty was just rejected based on a complete misreading of it."
The treaty’s critics, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were left arguing that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified if the US already complied with its intent, since endorsing the treaty could lead to problems down the road by unspecified means. That dismayed the treaty’s advocates, who see the treaty’s value in the message it sends to other countries about the importance of protecting disabled people. “It’s a treaty to change the world to be more like America,” protested John Kerry, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before the failed vote.
Dana Milbank notes that sometimes the treaty's opponents contradicted their own arguments:
[O]pponents couldn’t agree on how this box would be opened. “Do I believe that states will pass laws or have to pass laws in conformity with the U.N. edict?” [Rick] Santorum asked himself. “Do we have to amend IDEA?” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. “I don’t have any fear anytime soon that IDEA will be amended. But I do have concerns that people will go to courts and they will use this standard in this convention.”
This was contradicted by the next man at the microphone, home-schooling advocate Mike Farris, who pointed out that the document has a provision stating that “you can’t go to court automatically. You must have implementing legislation first” — the very thing Santorum says he does not expect to happen.
Still, their spurious theory of a U.N. takeover of parenting was enough to lead Lee and Santorum to oppose a treaty that would extend American values worldwide and guarantee disabled people equal treatment, and freedom from torture and exploitation.
Now I'm honestly pretty dubious about whether U.S. ratification of the treaty would accomplish all that. Unlike Law of the Sea, not ratifying this treaty doesn't appreciably harm U.S. interests. It does, however, make the United States look pretty dysfunctional. In essence, the U.S. Senate just rejected a treaty on protecting the disabled that would have globalized the status quo in U.S. law on this issue. To use the parlance of international relations scholars, this is dumber than a bag of hammers.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.