Political Animal


December 04, 2012 3:12 PM The Power of the Homeschool Lobby

By Ed Kilgore

So in one of those developments that you are warned about, but can’t quite visualize happening, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. All 38 “no” votes (treaty ratifications require a two-thirds Senate vote) were Republicans. And of the 8 GOP “yea” votes, three were from lame ducks and four from the one region of the country where something like moderate Republicans still walk the earth, New England.

Although all sorts of reasons were cited by conservatives for opposing this treaty—from standard-brand crypto-Bircherite hostility to the U.N. to complaints that abortion rights were not explicitly excluded—it’s reasonably clear the big problem was the opposition of homeschoolers, per this pre-vote report from The Hill’s Julian Pecquet:

Conservative activists have come out in force against the treaty, warning it would pave the way for government interference in homeschooling. Supporters of the pact say it would merely extend the rights under the Americans With Disabilities Act to all nations….
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)…is working alongside former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the Heritage Foundation and the Home School Legal Defense Association to ensure the treaty’s defeat. They warn it would create a U.N. committee that could impinge on U.S. sovereignty.

TPM’s Sahil Kapur quotes this revealing sentence from Lee’s victory statement:

“I and many of my constituents who home-school or send their children to religious schools,” said Lee, “have justifiable doubt that a foreign body based in Geneva, Switzerland, should be deciding what is best for a child at home in Utah.”

I’m now sure how many progressives understand the power of the homeschool lobby in Republican politics. While not all parents who homeschool their kids, of course, fit the stereotype of conservative evangelicals in patriarchal families with stay-at-home mothers,
convinced that “government schools” are dedicated to secularist indoctrination, many do. They play an outsized role in GOP politics wherever small but dedicated groups of activists are in a position to play a disproportionate role—most famously, the Iowa Caucuses, where right-wing candidates battle for the homeschool vote as a rich prize in every competitive election. They represent the Super-Base, and are not to be trifled with.

As we continue to discuss measures to keep the Senate functioning and discharging its constitutional duties, which means preventing a permanent supermajority requirement that gives 41 senators the power to stop any non-budget legislation they don’t like, it’s worth remembering this demonstration that 38 senators will torpedo one of the most reasonable-sounding treaties imaginable at the behest of a tiny but powerful activist minority.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • gus on December 04, 2012 3:25 PM:

    I truly do not understand how there are people who believe being onboard with a UN policy will lead to blue helmets showing up at their front doors in Middltown America.

    It baffles me.

    I’m sure my bafflement isn’t a temporary thing. Though, I hope it is with those conservatives who fear “losing more freedom” when their are diplomatic efforts to extend freedom elsewhere.

  • bigtuna on December 04, 2012 3:35 PM:

    The power of small numbers is at work at ensuring Mike Lee was elected. Contrary to what is typically reported, Mike Lee did not defeat Bob Bennett in a primary. Bob Bennett did not even get to a primary, because Mike Lee worked the system at the state republican caucus, and marshalled about 2100 delegates to vote or him; 2nd place went to some unknown guy; 3rd, and out of the running, was Bennett.

    So these home schoolers, and similar groups, are a powerful bunch when the noninating systems rely on small,vocal, well organized people. That is Mike Lee's base. I can probably throw stones from my house and hit 50 home school families, and that is all great - glad they take interest in their kids. But they do organize with the right wing here.

    For a truly scary time, check out Gayle Ruzicka and her influence on Utah Republicans. When Gayle says dance, the reupublicans ask how fast and to what tune.

  • JMG on December 04, 2012 3:36 PM:

    You know, there are one hell of a lot more people in this country who are disabled or who have loved ones who are than there are members of the "homeschool lobby." These guys are counting on voter inertia to protect them from everything they do. State by state, this is becoming less and less effective.

  • T2 on December 04, 2012 3:40 PM:

    "tiny but powerful activist minority." But it's not tiny.....a minority,yes, but tiny, no.
    You see, every evangelical church preaches some form of "us vs. Them" angle, and home-schooling is their gambit to keep their kids away from the Wrong Ideas, but more importantly to them, the Wrong People (i.e. other minorities). It's part of an increasingly minor minority of Americans, but it still has clout as long as Wyoming has two Senators and California has two Senators.

  • Frank on December 04, 2012 3:57 PM:

    Todd Akin made his career on the backs of the homeschoolers. Missouri has one of the most lenient homeschool laws in the nation, and that was the issue that got him his start.

  • T-Rex on December 04, 2012 4:26 PM:

    The remedial schooling for these kids when they can't pass the basic tests for their grade levels is costing taxpayers a bundle. Yes, it's government's business.

  • Tired Liberal on December 04, 2012 4:30 PM:

    Home schoolers are sometimes a pushy and logically inconsistent lot. An activist homeschooler in my area rejects the public schools but constantly pressures the public library to purchase the homeschooling curriculum materials that she chooses to use for her child.

  • Joan on December 04, 2012 4:33 PM:

    One question I have about this treaty is why it wasn't ratified with 61 votes...isn't that two thirds of 100? What am I missing? Maybe living in Florida has ruined my math skills( never good but I didn't think they were that bad!)

  • MuddyLee on December 04, 2012 4:38 PM:

    The home schoolers I know about in SC are republican, conservative, creationist, birthers, 10th amendment freaks who think people who go to regular Presbyterian churches are dangerous liberals.

  • jack in mpls on December 04, 2012 4:46 PM:

    @Joan -- Were you home schooled? 2/3 of 100 is 67 votes.

  • Daryl Cobranchi on December 04, 2012 4:52 PM:

    "One question I have about this treaty is why it wasn't ratified with 61 votes...isn't that two thirds of 100? What am I missing? Maybe living in Florida has ruined my math skills( never good but I didn't think they were that bad!)"

    2/3 of 100 is 67.

  • Kathryn on December 04, 2012 4:57 PM:

    These elected right wingers are an embarrassment and a laughing stock. Time for all able bodied sane people to work towards electing rational representatives in state and federal government.

    By the way, Sen. Lee, when I wad in grammar school, I learned a sentence does not begin with the words I and many of my constituents but rather it starts with many of my constituents and I, sheesh.

  • Daryl Cobranchi on December 04, 2012 5:00 PM:

    I'm one of those progressive homeschoolers. Yeah, it's a shame that Mike Farris and HSLDA have a bunch of sheeple so bamboozled that they would push their senators to vote against the treaty. As Ed points out in the article, not all homeschoolers fall into line behind Farris. More than a few of us are out there fighting the good fight right alongside you. Maybe you don't even know we homeschool. So comments such as several above are not helpful. You wouldn't show such blatant prejudice against African Americans or Jews or LGBT folks, would you?

  • beejeez on December 04, 2012 5:20 PM:

    Another day, another inane, pandering hurdle Republicans throw in the path of progress. I used to get outraged, then incredulous and now they're so predictable it's gotten boring.

  • Celui on December 04, 2012 5:23 PM:

    Ed: great post, and so very to the point. I read this today, was truly appalled and immediately wrote the following small note to Roy Blunt, US Senator from MO, and for whom I could never vote. His constituency, though, is strongly 'home-schoolers' in this state, as well as those who continue to live in Little Dixie and in the Missouri counties of Northern Arkansas.
    My note: Mr. Blunt: I note with great dismay and more than a bit of incredulity that today you have voted in the negative on the U.N. Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities bill before the US Senate. Because this bill simply affirms the support of the United States government for the rights of those who are disabled, and because it reflects the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, this bill simply strengthens the position of United States leadership within the world community of nations. Please note my dissatisfaction with your vote, and respond with your reasons why you should have voted in the negative.
    I'm not going to look for a reasonable response.
    Captcha: 594. Fdingij (Looks like something I want to call the entire NAY voters)

  • Blue Girl on December 04, 2012 5:31 PM:

    I cringe at the generic, inbred-hick, skeereda-science stereotypes being flung. My oldest two graduated from Catholic School but their younger sister just didn't do conventional school well, so after trying both Catholic and public school in Johnson County, KS (where public schools are awesome) the first half of sixth grade, I took her out of regular school after the winter break and home-schooled her with the help of an online program and later on, the community college down the street. When her peers were graduating high school, she was taking her associates degree.

    Now she's a Montessori teacher.

  • rdale on December 04, 2012 5:50 PM:

    Any mention of home schooling merits this clip from the move Mean Girls:



  • Gary Smith on December 04, 2012 6:20 PM:

    @Daryl Cobranchi speaks for me. My wife and I home-schooled my now-adult daughter, because as creative professionals (writer and art director) we felt the local school system was much too test- and sports-oriented, and we wanted her to have a balance, liberal arts education. I try to take these types of posts understanding that the large majority of home-schoolers do it for exactly the reasons described, but not all. Remember us lone Democrats (especially those of us suffering in Georgia)!

  • Tired of political bullies on December 04, 2012 7:23 PM:

    Good for the 38 Republicans that actually voted as their constituents wanted. Imagine that...members of the Senate actually considering what the people they represent want!

    Your article might have had value if you actually discussed the specific merits (or lack thereof) of the arguments both for AND against ratification of the treaty. Instead you use your soapbox as an opportunity to bash a segment of the American population. What's your goal? To further widen the already growing abyss between people for big government and those for less?

    The Maddow Blog (which you reference in your own article) states that the the vote would not require any change to our current laws ("we wouldn't actually have to do anything except say we like the treaty"). So why the bitter partisan stance and venomous rhetoric aimed specifically at homeschoolers? Your prejudices speak volumes.

  • g on December 04, 2012 7:37 PM:

    The Maddow Blog (which you reference in your own article) states that the the vote would not require any change to our current laws ("we wouldn't actually have to do anything except say we like the treaty"). So why the bitter partisan stance and venomous rhetoric aimed specifically at homeschoolers?

    So why the hysterical opposition to the treaty? Your fear and paranoia speaks equally in volume.

  • trex on December 04, 2012 7:52 PM:

    Good for the 38 Republicans that actually voted as their constituents wanted. Imagine that...members of the Senate actually considering what the people they represent want!

    The "home school lobby" as described is an anti-science, modern-day iteration of the Birchers motivated by bizarre conspiracy theories who had zero understanding of what this treaty represented, as presumably you do as well. Their constituents are the entire citizenry of the US, particularly when it comes to international treaties; also, the great majority of people in their states who don't hold to xenophobic, rumor-driven nonsense.

    Your article might have had value if you actually discussed the specific merits (or lack thereof) of the arguments both for AND against ratification of the treaty.

    There were no arguments whatsoever against the treaty, since it was largely blueprinted on the standards already implemented in the US by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In point of fact, the importance of America signing the treaty was as an example to leverage the rest of the world to OUR standards - you fucking moron.

    Conservative Bob fucking Dole came to the Senate in his wheelchair and begged the idiot Republicans to support the treaty. Sadly, they were too cowardly, having been cowed by the 76 IQ Brigade.

    So why the bitter partisan stance and venomous rhetoric aimed specifically at homeschoolers?

    Not at home schoolers. I know of a number of families who have and do home school and most of them are amazing, vote progressively, and would support a treaty like this without hesitation. It's the retarded Bircher/Birther home school lobby that believes Jesus rode on dinosaurs and takes their Republican senators hostage that our venom is justifiably aimed at. They are holding back the rest of the country and the world with backwards pseudo-religious and pseudo-scientific beliefs and attitudes. They are unable to cope with modernity, change, or a multi-polar world.

  • Anonymous on December 04, 2012 8:02 PM:

    [Hysterical, xenophobic and paranoid nonsense deleted by the moderator.]

  • The DeMBA on December 04, 2012 8:12 PM:

    Ed, Ed, Ed, - You are falling for the spin.

    Yes, they will talk about homeschoolers, and about bureaucrats in Switzerland, and they do care about that stuff.

    You regard this treaty as "reasonable" because it requires other signatories to meet U.S. standards of protections for the disabled, which is both a moral good that we must have agreed on at some point because the law is on the books and no-one is talking about repealing it. That spreading that level of protections by tying ourselves into it via treaty is a good thing, because it helps people and avoids the U.S. being at an economic disadvantage by those greater protections.

    The flaw is that you assume that those Republicans wouldn't repeal those legal protections for the disabled in a heartbeat if they could. They'd talk about how those laws hurt the 'job creators' by making it more expensive to do business, about how they are tyrannical infringements on freedom of choice, how they are socialist (or even communist!) in nature and at odds with our capitalist system.

    Any time they can vote against that sort of thing, they will. They just need a fig leaf so they don't appear to heartless.

  • trex on December 04, 2012 8:16 PM:

    You want hysterical? Here's Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum comparing it to moves by Nazis and Marxists:


    Here's the Santorum quote suggesting the treaty would allow his chld to be euthanized. Doesn't get any more hysterical than that:


    An obvious benefit of this treaty for Americans is that it validates and strengthens the protections for the disabled in the Americans with Disabilities Act, particularly against the predictable moves by Republicans to weaken government protections like this. We can write a volume on the specifics of these benefits. It also helps Americans because every move to raise the standards and human rights protecting in other countries strengthens humanity, promotes democracy, and makes it less likely we will go to war over human rights abuses.

    You fuckwwit.

  • paul on December 04, 2012 8:23 PM:

    Let's remember that the homeschool lobby also includes all the wingnut "education" companies that sell textbooks and curriculum packs, the backers of online "charter schools" that siphon money away from local school districts and so forth. A few million kids at a few thousand dollars per kid per year, and if you can do basic math you'll know that's real money. The kind of revenue stream that's worth buying some legislators to protect.

  • trex on December 04, 2012 8:44 PM:

    People like you make me WANT to homeschool my children. You can't argue the point without resorting to name calling? Looks like a bully...sounds like bully...is a bully.

    People who home school their children cuss. You apparently need a lesson in Venn Diagrams.

    I can and do argue without swearing. On this blog, however, people who show up and attack the blogger get the treatment. Why? Because you are not arguing in good faith. Every single one of your points was rebutted and you had nothing. You had to grab my gratuitous insults like a fig lea because you've got nothing. Having interfaced with literally thousands of wingnuts like you over the years I've become pretty good at predicting where these exchanges are going to end up once your position has become eviscerated.

    The insults just help hasten it along to its logical conclusion so you'll be on your way.

    But by all means, if you'd like to stick around and discuss the merits of this treaty in detail and find out with even greater position how you're wrong let's do.

    BTW, I grew up in an ultraconservative religious and conservatively political household. It was exposure to the very people I'm exposing and you're defending that shaped my views on this and related issues. I'm quite experienced with this type. These are very troubled people.

  • biggerbox on December 04, 2012 10:45 PM:

    I just want to go on record as being opposed to all the policy proposals from the GOP leadership in Congress, because they would force us all to use our living rooms to raise captive wombats for breeding purposes.

    No, not really, I just wanted to see what it felt like to take an opposition position just because of something that was not only completely made up, but kind of insane on its face. Oddly, I didn't find it all that fun, so I don't understand what it is that the right wing gets out of it. I mean, I can't even imagine it really feels all that threatening to have one's sovereignty 'at risk' to an outfit that has to borrow soldiers from countries you've barely heard of, and is often hard-put to stop rampaging guys with machetes in Africa.

    (Sorry, UN, you're awful nice, but I just have never understood why one of the world's most powerless organizations is seen as A BIG THREAT!!!)

  • emjayay on December 04, 2012 10:53 PM:

    Without the benefit of any new research whatsoever....a few years ago I saw an estimate of home schooler families as being about 75% evangelicals who I assume fit the picture of homeschooling their kids to avoid an education legitimizing evolution and the earth not being created in one week 6,000 years ago etc., gay people and kids of gay parents being OK, and of course getting otherwise morally polluted by anything else of the modern world, like I suppose nonwhite people. Every homeschool group I ever saw while working in national parks appeared to fit this stereotype.

  • trex on December 05, 2012 12:51 AM:

    This treaty was originally negotiated and signed by conservative George W. Bush. Every veterans group in the country supported it because it promoted protections for disabled veterans. Anyone with a lick of sense on either side of the aisle could see that it was a positive thing for the country and for the world.

    And then insane Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Fund mobilized his army of mouthbreathers because, and I quote, if we signed this treaty then "kids with glasses, kids with ADHD, the UN would get control over them."

    So yes, the hyper-nationalistic xenophobes who need medication and integration into society more than they need AM talk radio and home schooling managed to scuttle this treaty and fuck over veterans and the disabled because they believe in the prospect of black helicopters abducting their children.

    Our hope for a prosperous and just future is diminished by the antics of the childish among us who indulge themselves in fantasies and petulant behavior.

  • David E. Ortman on December 05, 2012 2:54 AM:

    "They warn it would create a U.N. committee that could impinge on U.S. sovereignty."

    Where were these folks when Congress impinged U.S. sovereignty by passing trade agreements such as NAFTA or the World Trade Organization agreement?

    The WTO does impose its will on member states. Contrary to the ridiculous assertion that the United States signed on to a global trade agreement that doesn't mean anything, the WTO is extremely specific about what happens when the WTO rules that countries, including the United States, have human rights, labor or environmental laws that are a barrier to trade: The offending measure must be removed.

    Here are direct quotes from the WTO Agreement: Under Article 21.1, "Prompt compliance with the recommendations or rulings of the DSB is essential in order to ensure effective resolution of disputes." And under Article 3.7, "the first objective of the dispute settlement mechanism is usually to secure the withdrawal of the measures ... found to be inconsistent (with the WTO agreements). The provision of compensation should be resorted to only if the immediate withdrawal of the measure is impracticable and as a temporary measure pending the withdrawal of the measure which is inconsistent with a covered agreement."

    This section makes clear that compensation is only a temporary measure and can not be considered an alternative to withdrawal of a law found to be in violation of the WTO.

    This is repeated in Article 22.1: "Compensation and the suspension of concessions of other obligations are temporary measures available in the event that the recommendations and rulings are not implemented within a reasonable period of time."

    This section goes on to say that "compensation is voluntary and, if granted, shall be consistent with the covered agreements." However, later, in Article 22.8, it makes clear that "The suspension of concessions or other obligations shall be temporary and shall only be applied until such time as the measure found to be inconsistent with a covered agreement has been removed."

    The sole purpose of the WTO is to "remove" offending measures, otherwise known as nontariff trade barriers, otherwise known as human rights, environmental and labor laws. Which raises the basic question of why folks concerned about sovereignty threats don't focus on sovereignty threats from trade agreements.

  • jhm on December 05, 2012 9:02 AM:

    Just as an illustration of how far we are from sanity, compare the law in Germany which forced parents instructing their children in young Earth creationism to be removed from their care; as this is (as it should be) considered child abuse.

  • trex on December 05, 2012 10:41 AM:

    Here's a comment from Balloon Juice that bore reproducing:

    Jonas Says:

    "You thought the gobsmacking assholery of these people couldn’t get any worse, then, well, they take it up a notch. If there were some sovereignty-busting treaty out there committing all signatories to banning abortion of disabled fetuses or something, they’d be on the Senate floor 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on their knees with tears streaming down their cheeks to pass it. When a treaty calling for the equitable treatment of born children with disabilities comes along, signed by a Republican President, and inspired by American law, they simply can’t countenance it.

    Your just want to punch these guys in the dick."

    December 5th, 2012 at 5:22 am

  • LAC on December 05, 2012 12:08 PM:

    For all the sensitive home schoolers out there, you have a bunch of dicks out there that appear to represent you. Instead of panties in a bunch wailing at us, try to be a voice of reason out there to counter that.

  • Chris K on December 06, 2012 11:25 AM:

    I feel it would more accurate to say the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) was against this treaty than just homeschoolers. I homeschool my four children and am a progressive. MOST of the homeschoolers we know also are progressives. Even so, many of us were getting bombarded daily with emails from HSLDA daily, saying to contact our Senators, blah, blah, blah, because this treaty would take away all our parental rights, including the right to homeschool, using ridiculous leaps of logic to make their case or just flat out using scare tactics. There was a thoughtful, mostly intelligent discussion on one of our local boards about it, but most of the people I associate with just couldn't make the leap to believe what the HSLDA was spouting. It's a shame that they took such a stance on this since they do such good work when focusing on what they are SUPPOSED to be doing, but many of us THINKING homeschoolers can't support them because of nutball stances like this.

  • Heidi on March 28, 2013 11:22 AM:

    Many other nations with far left wing leanings also had reservations about this bill. The U.N. Bill looks like a good thing, and we all have a relative or friend who is disabled, but other nations also want to take care of their disabled without the U.N. Telling them what to do.

    There's more to this issue than what this journalist has revealed. He neglected to either research or reveal the why. He got who, what, where, and when, but not why. That is negligent journalism, and is all too common.

    Homeschoolers--and they actually read the bill and studied the possible repercussions of it, found that the education section would take their freedom of choice to educate their disabled children at home, or in private schools. Disabled would technically belong to the government, and not with their families.

    My disabled brother was homeschooled for a year, and he still says he learned more in that year than any of the others. Public schools did him no favors.