President George H.W. Bush did more to advance civil rights than any president since Lyndon Johnson, including Barack Obama.
If you remember only the 1988 campaign ad blaming his Democratic opponent, then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, for a rape committed by African-American convict Willie Horton while on weekend furlough, you may find my statement absurd if not dishonest.
Yes, Bush should have disavowed the spot, created by a group not connected to the official Bush campaign. But few people born after ’88 probably know about it and it doesn’t impact their lives daily.
These young people and virtually everyone else though see or feel Braille on elevators, use public restrooms equipped with wheelchair-accessible stalls and ideally don’t use disabled parking unless they are qualified to.
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By now, we all use or see these things and others, such as service dogs in businesses, without thinking. Yet, before July 26, 1990, no federal law mandated any of those them.
On that hot day on the White House lawn, Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, the last major civil rights measure we have seen.
Among it’s provisions, it barred job discrimination against qualified people with disabilities and required doctors to provide sign language interpreters for people who are deaf. In short, it made people with disabilities seen for what they are: citizens no different from others.
It also moved others nations to pass similar laws and led to the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, which the Senate should ratify now.
The ADA was not a Republican victory or a Democratic one. Liberal Ted Kennedy and conservative Bob Dole and others on both sides of the aisle worked with Bush’s White House for the good of the entire nation.
This how our government should work and the 41st president understood this.
In 1996, Bush never touted the ADA during his re-election bid. I often wondered why. I now think he understood disabilities rights know no party.
As he grew older, he became a wheelchair user. After his beloved wife, Barbara, died, a VA-supplied service dog helped him handle his daily tasks. What he did for others ended up helping him
In any season, that’s a good lesson. Now as we both mourn and celebrate Bush, it’s very timely.
David P. Rundle is a Wichita freelance journalist