James Downie: Profiles in cowardice

12/09/2012 12:00 AM

12/07/2012 5:47 PM

The U.S. Senate voted last week on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which would extend to the rest of the world many of the rights that disabled Americans already have. Republicans voted it down; the treaty fell five votes short of the two-thirds majority required for ratification.

But the actions of some of the Republicans who voted against the treaty make one doubt how many of them truly believed they were doing the right thing.

To begin with, as Foreign Policy reported, the U.S. International Council on Disabilities and many other groups “had been assured by numerous GOP senators that they would vote in favor of ratification” before they in fact voted “no.”

Josh Rogin wrote: “Several GOP senators actually RSVP’d for a reception held at the Capitol Tuesday morning to honor (former Sen. Robert) Dole, a disabled veteran himself, for his decades of work on behalf of the disabled community.”

In fact, Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted “no” after personally promising Dole they would support the treaty.

Before the vote, Dole rolled in a wheelchair onto the Senate floor, where, as Roll Call’s Meredith Shiner wrote:

“One by one, senators of both parties approached (Dole), with former colleagues gently resting their hands on his shoulder or reaching out to his left hand.… Then, one by one, after Dole was wheeled off the floor, most Republicans voted against the measure. Many members did not register their ‘nay’ votes verbally, instead whispering their opposition directly to the clerk or gesturing their hands from their chairs.”

These senators shook Dole’s hand, looked him in the eye and, once he left the floor, turned their backs on him, on his fellow disabled veterans and on disabled people throughout the world. They did not stand tall and proud against the treaty. No, these senators whispered their opposition or gestured from their chairs. (Remember that senators, no strangers to C-SPAN, know that the network’s microphones can pick up their votes if they wish to be heard.)

These were not the actions of men and women who were proud of their vote. These senators knew, privately, that their vote was wrong.

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