Political Animal


December 09, 2012 4:13 PM Republicans Against People With Disabilities

By Adele Stan

If you expected Senate Republicans to have learned any lessons from the drubbing they took in the November elections, you’d have done well to have expected them to learn the wrong lessons. For instead of the humility one might expect from a party in receipt of a comeuppance, Republicans, at least those who fear primary challenges, have learned from their so-to-be-departed enforcer, that, when in the minority, obstruct, obstruct obstruct.

And you might expect the party’s nominee for the presidency to be the party’s standard-bearer in the out years, but Republicans have apparently chosen for that role the former senator from Pennsylvania who lost that nomination to Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, but who came closer to winning it than many can bear to remember.

So it was that 38 senators in the Grand Old Party blocked ratification this week of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, at the direction of the party’s most extreme members, most notably a vanquished presidential candidate who once compared gay marriage to beastiality.

On November 26, in the wood-paneled majesty of a Senate hearing room simply known as Dirksen 562, three white men in grey suits stood in the well, taking turns at a microphone to inveigh against the dangers they claimed to lurk in the recesses of an international agreement designed to encourage governments to provide to their people the kind of access and protections provided to people in this country through the Americans With Disability Act. But this was no hearing; it was a press conference called by former G.O.P. senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum under the aegis of his recently founded organization, Patriot Voices.

First to speak was Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, the man who staged an insurgent candidacy, with the help of FreedomWorks, at the Utah state G.O.P. convention in 2010, and came away the victor when the apparently insufficiently conservative Bob Bennett failed to allow for the massing of Lee delegates organized by the astroturf group.

Lee, a small man of stiff bearing and slicked-back hair, wore a jaunty red tie that popped against the backdrop of his crisp, white shirt, and boasted that he “secured the signatures of 36 Republicans” promising to vote against the treaty, which required, like all treaties, the yea votes of two-thirds of all senators in order to pass. At issue, he said, was the fact that the treaty, in its section on disabled children, embraced a standard called “the best interest of the child,” which he contended would put the rights of parents at risk when it came to determining what is best for their child.

The treaty, Lee continued, would also require “certain entitlements,” such as those provided for by the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women, which, he said had languished without ratification since the 1960s, because “the U.S. regarded those as part of a march toward socialism, and refused to embrace them on that basis.”

Next up was homeschooler and erstwhile presidential candidate Rick Santorum, whose tie was blue, and whose suit was a darker hue of grey. (Read Ed Kilgore on the role of the homeschool lobby in opposing the treaty.) He spoke for a few minutes before being joined at the podium by two of his high-school-age children — daughter Sara Maria, a tall girl in a short kilt and baggy pale blue sweater, and son Daniel, in navy blue sweater and slacks — and wife Karen, dressed in a grey jacket, dark slacks and navy print scarf, her honey-colored hair swept into a barrette at the back of her neck. Struggling in her arms was the Santorums’ youngest child, Bella, wearing a scarlet dress and matching hat. None of the family spoke, except for the father.

“Isabella Maria is a miracle,” Santorum said of his youngest child, who is four years old. “She was born with a condition known as trisomy-18. Look it up in the medical literature; it will say these words: ‘incompatible with life.’ That is her diagnosis, and it is the diagnosis that is accepted across the medical profession.”

I looked up trisomy-18, and did not find that term, “incompatible with life,” in the medical literature that generally described Bella’s condition. What it said was that children with the condition often don’t survive their first year, and have a host of severe maladies.

During the campaign, Santorum cancelled several appearances because of a life-threatening illness contracted by Bella, but here he was, trotting her out as a prop. The Santorums’ seventh child, Santorum wears her disability as proof of his credibility in the antiabortion movement, and often tells the story of his decision with his wife to continue the pregnancy after testing revealed the condition their child would be born with.

Now Santorum was using Bella as the reason for his opposition to the U.N. treaty, which, he said, would enable the government to forbid him to homeschool his own daughter.

“Imagine the situation if now the state — those who are not the parents of these children — have the determination as to what is in the best interest of the child, the best interests of a child who is ‘incompatible with life’ seems to be something incompatible with the way Karen and I view Isabella’s life.”

Bella bucked in her mother’s arms, requiring Karen Santorum to straighten the toddler’s hat.

“And so this is a direct assault on us and our family,” Rick Santorum continued, “to hand over to the state the ability to make medical determinations and see what is in the best interests of the child — and not look at the wonderful gift that every child is and give every child the opportunity.”

As Santorum continued his remarks, his family retreated to the staff seats behind the empty horseshoe-shaped bench at which senators sit during the course of a hearing.

Enter Michael Farris, head of the Home School Legal Defense Association, whose dark grey suit hung a bit off his narrow frame, his blue tie a bit askew. Farris, who sports an unnaturally full head of hair, is also chancellor of the right-wing Patrick Henry College, and recently threatened to sue a group of gay Patrick Henry students for publishing a blog called QueerPMC. (Farris has called same-sex marriage “an abomination.”)

“America should make law for Americans,” Farris said — not the U.N. That appeared to be his first problem with the treaty.

But that wasn’t his only problem. The Obama administration, he claimed, was putting all kinds of wrong ideas in people’s heads about what the treaty really means. “There’s kind of an implied idea that Americans, when we travel abroad, can’t use the pre-existing wheelchair ramps because we haven’t ratified the treaty,” Farris said. “…Somebody needs to do fact-checking on the claims made by the administration and its proponents in the Senate.”

He held up four fingers. “I guarantee you four Pinocchios.”

Farris went on to make a long, rambling statement about having a hard time wheeling his mother, who has multiple sclerosis, around Europe, the threat purportedly posed by the treaty to home-schoolers, how the senators who embraced the treaty never took international law into account, and about how veterans groups that supported the treaty had been “misled.”

But the worst of his ire was reserved for Bob Dole, the now wheelchair-bound Republican former senator, presidential candidate and World War II hero who championed the treaty.

“No matter what people’s intentions are, we have to realize that this is not an altruistic statement,” Farris said of the treaty’s promise to promote the best interest of the disabled child. “This is not something you congratulate a former senator with.”

Before he left the hearing room, Rick Santorum was asked if he planned to run again for president in 2016. He smiled slyly, saying he had yet decided.

When Mike Lee’s 36 anti-treaty GOP senators joined with an additional two Republicans the following week to vote the treaty down, Bob Dole was on hand in the chamber as the senators began to vote. Then his wife, Elizabeth, herself a Republican former senator and presidential candidate, wheeled him out the door before he could witness its defeat.


  • jcricket on December 09, 2012 5:35 PM:

    To these RWNJ's everything is an assault. Hell, one can't even say 'Happy Holidays' without one of them screeching about a War on Christmas(tm). When one excuse for outrage ends, another begins.

    After all, you *can* fool some of the people *all* of the time.

  • Daryl Cobranchi on December 09, 2012 5:49 PM:

    Was this really any surprise? They've never liked the ADA because it "forces" the job creators to make accommodations for those with disabilities. Add in the very limited accommodations that they must make for pregnant employees, and it should have been expected that we couldn't get 2/3 of the Senate to approve the treaty.

    The modern GOP hates everyone and everything who might cost the job creators even a nickel.

    They can't come right out and say that, of course. So they couch their opposition in nonsense such as the homeschooling bit last week.

  • N.Wells on December 09, 2012 6:19 PM:

    The Republican party has at least been consistent for multiple decades now in that every time I think they cannot get more deranged and despicable, they sink even farther below my worst imaginings. My "unthinkable rock bottom" from the Reagan era turned out to be so far above the troglodyte bunker that modern rightwingers have dug themselves down to that they can't even see back up to Reagan levels of incompetence, scandal, and malfeasance.

  • martin on December 09, 2012 6:37 PM:

    "Best interest of the Child" is a standard used in many parts of the law to forbid things like child abuse, child labor, and (sadly still) to take children away from a gay parent. I know the real righties are against have no problem with the first two, but will run over each other to let the state take children from gay parents.

    Can't we just give them another country to be part of?

  • c u n d gulag on December 09, 2012 6:50 PM:

    Former Senator Santorum,
    I'm sorry that your bad and defective man-seed met an apparently defective egg in your wife' uterus, and that your daughter has terminal difficulties.
    That is truly horrible.

    But, in the meantime, you want to prevent other couples from having the choice of deciding whether to bring their own sadly unwanted and/or children into the world.

    All I can say to you, Former Senator Senator Santcimonious, is, "FECK YOU, YOUR FECKIN' FAMILY, AND YOUR DISFUNCTIONAL WORLD VIEW!!!"

    Did you ever consider, Former Senator Sans-any-empathy, that your God is punishing you for being a total feckin' d*ck and an @$$hole?

    Of course not.
    I forgot.
    You stupid and ignorant fecker's are BLESSED!

  • c u n d gulag on December 09, 2012 6:56 PM:

    And please, Ms. Stan, don't let the 'powers-that-be' at WaMo let you be a stranger for too much longer again!

    As we say in NY, "Ya's done GREAT, you's done did!!!"

  • exlibra on December 09, 2012 7:02 PM:

    [...] Convention to End Discrimination Against Women, which, he (Lee) said had languished without ratification since the 1960s, because “the U.S. regarded those as part of a march toward socialism [...]

    May Marx forbid that women should be protected from discrimination. And may Lenin do the same for the state's interest in the well being of its children. I also hope that God, if he/she exists, makes sure that those sanctimonious, twisted bastards are stashed in the deepest pit of hell. The sooner the better, too.

  • Barbara on December 09, 2012 7:49 PM:

    What standard should be applied? The best interests of everyone else? What the hell is he even talking about?

    Maybe Santorum is afraid that someone will find it not to be in the best interests of his 7th child to make her a stage prop in his political grandstanding.

    What N. Wells said. I still have trouble beholding how low our discourse can be brought.

  • Fess on December 09, 2012 8:34 PM:

    Having looked up trisomy-18, I didn't find "incompatible with life."

    I did find that babies who make it to term (many to most don't)

    *are stillborn 50% of the time
    *virtually all babies with trisomy-18 need neonatal intensive care
    *those babies discharged from the nursery need home nursing in addition to parental nursing
    *90% of the live-born children die before their 1st birthdays
    *a few children, mostly girls, live to reach their 20s or even 30s, but will always need around the clock nursing care.

    Characteristics of trisomy-18:

    Heart defects:
    VSD (Ventricular Septal Defect): a hole between the lower chambers
    ASD (Atrial Septal Defect): a hole between the upper chambers
    Coarctation of the aorta: a narrowing of the exit vessel from the heart
    Kidney problems
    Part of the intestinal tract is outside the stomach (omphalocele)
    The esophagus doesn’t connect to the stomach (esophageal artesia)
    Excess amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
    Clenched hands
    Pocket of fluid on the brain (choroid plexus cysts)
    Rocker bottom feet
    Delayed growth
    Small jaw (mycrognathia)
    Small head (microcephaly)
    Low-set ears
    Strawberry-shaped head
    Severe developmental delays
    Umbilical or inguinal hernia

    Santorum is a creep. If he doesn't want others to make this decision for him and his family, he at least needs to respect the choices made by other parents. This is the same guy who opposes ObamaCare which could conceivable cover some of the extraordinary medical costs necessary to sustain such a child.

  • Rugosa on December 09, 2012 9:14 PM:

    I wonder what countries Farris was talking about. A wheelchair-bound friend of mine has traveled in Europe, and praised the transportation systems there for accessibility.

  • bluestatedon on December 09, 2012 11:05 PM:

    I've been seeing black helicopters circling around Ann Arbor for several days now, and the word on the street is that all Obama has to do is give them the thumbs-up and they'll deposit hundreds of blue-helmeted UN troops on the front lawns of all local citizens who are home-schooling their kids for "re-education" sessions. After they're done, they'll also drag Grandma and Grandpa off to the Death Panels.

  • mudwall jackson on December 10, 2012 12:41 AM:

    The modern GOP hates everyone and everything who might cost the job creators even a nickel.


    you give these crack pots too much credit for thinking rationally. this is pure insanity along the lines of bike paths leading to a un takeover.

  • MuddyLee on December 10, 2012 8:37 AM:

    It would be nice to see Bob Dole and Elizabeth Dole switch parties to counter the craziness of the "modern" republican party. Home schoolers have certainly done a lot of damage to the country, especially in the South. Maybe by age 30 their children will recover - could Obamacare help pay for therapy?

    Good work, Adele.