In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the civil rights of people with autism and other disabilities. Republicans, including the recently-deceased Bob Dole, were once at the forefront of disability rights. Now they are not. Unfortunately, Republican politicians and conservative media figures are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers. There is a great deal of overlap between MAGA World and the antivax movement.
[Bob] Dole’s passing on Sunday has allowed Washington, D.C. to engage in one of its favorite activities—reminiscing on the days when bipartisanship reigned; the ADA looms large as a prime example. But it also forces a round of uncomfortable questions, regarding the way the Republican Party has strayed from Dole’s heyday, abandoning the positions on disability rights they once proudly defended.
“The history of the Republican writ large in the area of civil rights up until recently, there’s been a strong and sustained advocacy for civil rights,” said Tom Ridge, who was a Republican congressman at the time of the ADA’s passage and is now chairman of the National Organization on Disability. Ridge’s words about the decline of bipartisanship on disability aren’t empty “Party of Lincoln” platitudes; Dole voted for the Civil Rights Act as well as the Voting Rights Act; he brokered a compromise that helped extend the Voting Rights Act in 1982 with future ADA collaborator Kennedy.
“Regrettably, there hasn’t been as strong a champion within the Republican Party since he left the Congress,” said Ridge.
In December 2012, Dole made a return to the Senate floor, hoping to leverage some of his “elder statesman” status by lobbying Republicans to support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. On the opposing side of the fight was Rick Santorum, who, like Dole, was a former senator with his own losing mission for the GOP nomination under his belt. The fact that Santorum was the father to a developmentally disabled daughter didn’t sway him to Dole’s side; instead, he urged Republicans to vote no, on the basis of unfounded fears that the treaty would permit bureaucrats from the United Nations to dictate disability policy. Santorum believed that this would, among other things, threaten parents who homeschooled disabled children. Newly elected Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz also lobbied his future colleagues to vote against the treaty.