Another Attack on the Sovereignty of America, God and Family!

It’s hardly news any more when conservatives oppose ratification of a treaty reflecting widely shared American values. Concern for U.S. “sovereignty,” often based on conspiracy theories about the United Nations and other multinational organizations the U.S. helped create, has become a reflexive excuse for a kind of rigid unilateralism once associated with the John Birch Society or even older, isolationist conservatives.

But the current conservative fight to kill ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is especially interesting because the most avid opponents are the cultural conservatives who often profess solidarity with the disabled as part of their fight against legalized abortion. Anti-choicers and home-schoolers, however, have declared war on the convention on the theory that it confirms the “reproductive rights” of people with disabilities, and/or might confer other rights upon them that intefere with the absolute power of the family (presumably a servant-leader male-directed family) to raise children as they wish.

Thus it’s not surprising that Rick Santorum is at the head of this particular parade in the Senate, which raises the ire of WaPo’s Dana Milbank:

The former presidential candidate pronounced his “grave concerns” about the treaty, which forbids discrimination against people with AIDS, who are blind, who use wheelchairs and the like. “This is a direct assault on us,” he declared at a news conference….

[Mike] Lee, a tea party favorite, said he, too, has “grave concerns” about the document’s threat to American sovereignty. “I will do everything I can to block its ratification, and I have secured the signatures of 36 Republican senators, all of whom have joined with me saying that we will oppose any ratification of any treaty during this lame-duck session.”

Lame or not, Santorum and Lee recognized that it looks bad to be disadvantaging the disabled in their quest for fair treatment. Santorum praised Lee for having “the courage to stand up on an issue that doesn’t look to be particularly popular to be opposed.”

Courageous? Or just contentious? The treaty requires virtually nothing of the United States. It essentially directs the other signatories to update their laws so that they more closely match the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even Lee thought it necessary to preface his opposition with the qualifier that “our concerns with this convention have nothing to do with any lack of concern for the rights of persons with disabilities.”

Their concerns, rather, came from the dark world of U.N. conspiracy theories. The opponents argue that the treaty, like most everything the United Nations does, undermines American sovereignty — in this case via a plot to keep Americans from home-schooling their children and making other decisions about their well-being.

And so, Santorum brought his famous daughter Bella, who suffers from a severe birth defect, to the hearing where he fought against acknowledgement of the rights of people like her.

This is where the pretzel logic of the Right can lead.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.