John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

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Least Among Us

Posted on December 6, 2012


It is in the Book of  Matthew that you can read, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”

No country does more for the least among us, especially the disabled community, than the United States.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed Congress in my first year up on Capitol Hill.  I was working for House Minority Leader Bob Michel at the time, and as a newly minted conservative, I wasn’t particularly fond of the ADA.  It forced small businesses to build access ramps, required small towns to buy specially-equipped buses so that people in wheel-chairs could have access to public transportation, it required schools to spend money educating disabled children.

The ADA has been and will continue to be an expensive law.  But, in retrospect, you would have to say it has been worth it.  Giving the disabled a better chance to prosper in America makes this country a better place to live.

Like most Americans, I didn’t know that much about the new United Nations Treaty on protecting people with disabilities.   But exporting the ADA seems like a pretty good idea to me.  And  just looking at it from the outside, the idea that a pretty hefty block of conservatives voted to not ratify it doesn’t sit well with me.

The fact that Bob Dole, an icon in American history, a true fiscal conservative, a true war hero, and a passionate defender of the disabled (and one of the architects of the ADA) was wheeled out to the Senate floor by his wife, only to see Republicans kill the treaty, should be deeply and profoundly embarrassing to national Republicans.

Republicans are becoming the enemy of the disabled and that is not good for them politically (and morally).  I bet you that if you took a poll of most white Americans who are not associated with the labor movement who voted for the Democrats in this past election, a surprisingly high number would have a family member who has a disability.

Small government is one thing.  Getting rid of the Social Safety net is something else completely.   All too often, conservatives forget about the Social Safety net and that scares a lot of voters.

Opposition to this Treaty was led by Rick Santorum, who has a disabled daughter.   Santorum and other conservatives have a profound distrust of the United Nations, and Republicans promised Harry Reid that they weren’t going to ratify any treaties in the lame duck.

Reid skillfully guided this vote to maximize the embarrassment for Congressional Republicans.

By ratifying this Treaty, Republicans could have exported American values (and profoundly Christian values).  By doing so, they could have struck a blow for the disabled, for American workers and the American economy (by equalizing the playing field for our businesses), and for a better, more compassionate world.

The idea that this Treaty would have impinged on American sovereignty is more than a little suspect.  I don’t think Bob Dole and John McCain fought and sacrificed their bodies in foreign wars so that America would sacrifice its sovereignty.

I am not an expert on U.N. Treaties, but I do know a thing or two about political communication.  If Republicans were going to kill this treaty, they should have sent the message to Bob Dole and they should have told the rest of us why they were going to kill it well before they killed it.

Looking like you don’t care about the least among us is not a winner politically (or spiritually for that matter).