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.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.