Thursday, December 06, 2012

Why Did Thirty-Eight Senators Vote 'No'?

One might be tempted to believe--or at least fervently hope--that the 38 Republican senators who voted against ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Monday had reasonable objections to the treaty. Even applying a rather generous definition of "reasonable," that was not the case. Thus it is with the opposition party's assault on reason.

As with the opposition to other international agreements, including unratified--at least by the U.S.--human rights treaties such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Republican concerns focus on how specific provisions of the agreements in question might be interpreted--and thus enforced--by U.S. courts if they were to become part of the "supreme law of the land" as Article VI specifies.

Gail Collins, writing in the New York Times, explains this as well as anyone I've seen so far:
Santorum was upset about a section on children with dis- abilities that said: "The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration."
"This is a direct assault on us and our family!" he said at a press conference in Washington.
The hard right has a thing about the United Nations. You may remember that the senator-elect from Texas, Ted Cruz, once railed that a 20-year-old nonbinding United Nations plan for sustainable development posed a clear and present threat to American golf courses.
The theory about the treaty on the disabled is that the bit about "best interests of the child" could be translated into laws prohibiting disabled children from being home-schooled. At his press conference, Santorum acknowledged that wasn’t in the cards. But he theorized that someone might use the treaty in a lawsuit "and through the court system begin to deny parents the right to raise their children in conformity with what they believe."
If I felt you were actually going to worry about this, I would tell you that the Senate committee that approved the treaty included language specifically forbidding its use in court suits. But, instead, I will tell you about own my fears. Every day I take the subway to work, and I use a fare card that says "subject to applicable tariffs and conditions of use." What if one of those conditions is slave labor? Maybe the possibility of me being grabbed at the turnstile and carted off to a salt mine isn’t in the specific law, but what if a bureaucrat somewhere in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority decided to interpret it that way?
It can be difficult trying to explain to those in other countries how 38 percent of the members of one or our two legislative bodies--and the 38 percent with the most fevered imaginations at that--can derail important matters of international law and U.S. foreign poilcy. To say, "That's democracy!" is to give democracy a bad name.