A lot of people have been lamenting the US Senate’s failure on Wednesday to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by a vote of 61-38 (treaties need 67 votes to be ratified), and rightly so. There is virtually no reason not to ratify the treaty, and many GOP senators even went back on promises at the last minute by voting no. It’s really terrible that the United States is so unwilling to ratify international conventions, many of which are great treaties, on the absurd fear of losing all American sovereignty (or whatever it is they’ve convinced themselves).
But the fact is, we shouldn’t be surprised. The Unites States is the only country other than Somalia that hasn’t ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And we’re in the minority of non-ratifiers for a host of other conventions and treaties, from landmine bans to climate change protocols to international justice. The next time the U.S. signs onto anything like this, it will be because a Republican President wants to.
Sometimes people look at me with a bit of skepticism on that point, but it’s true. In an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China way, only a Republican president could twist the arms of enough GOP senators to vote alongside Dems, who for the most part already support such measures. The only reason the U.S. ever signed onto the Genocide Convention was because Ronald Reagan accidentally visited a Nazi cemetery (and didn’t visit any concentration camps) on a trip to Germany. To solve the controversy, he pushed for the Genocide Convention’s passage and voila. That is almost the only route for America to sign anything.
So we just need the next GOP President to fuck up on an issue, I guess.
Roughly a year ago, when local lobbying was at its height for the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, the bill’s co-sponsors tried to pass it by unanimous consent. With more co-sponsors than any Africa-related legislation in modern American history, it was a good idea. And then Tom Coburn stepped in. Known for blocking everything that costs more than a penny for Congress, Coburn had decided that the LRA bill would be one of his many stands. He he blocked a bill with bipartisan support from the country at large, including his state’s senior senator , and thousands of his constituents. Needless to say, grassroots organizing got a move on. Quite a few of my friends, from across the country, held a vigil in front of his Oklahoma City office 24/7 until he took the hold off. All told, the vigil lasted eleven days before a deal was reached, and the bill passed the Senate the next day.
Dr. Coburn was in the news again this past week for being one of the more vocal opponents to the 9/11 health bill. The bill would have compensated a number of first responders who were suffering from health problems related to 9/11 and the rescue efforts that followed in the rubble. After Jon Stewart hosted a number of first responders on his show to call out opponents, the general populace started getting up in arms about it (including Rudy Guiliani and Mike Huckabee). After all the uproar, Coburn finally decided to give in (after bringing down some costs, obviously).
I’m all for being careful with money and watching where the government spends money, but Coburn has gone to the extreme. He also blocked aid to Haiti after the earthquake there, among other hot topic blocks. It seems like he always needs a level of shame before he’ll back down. I hope he gets smarter about where he chooses to put his foot down in the future. It’d make government work a little better, which – according to Coburn – has been his intention all along.