Friday, October 28 , 2016, 1:44 am | Overcast 64º


Mark Shields: Signs of the Republican Party in Panic

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., the uncompromising conservative whose average personal net worth of $40,501 made him, according to the respected Center for Public Integrity, the fourth-poorest member of the Senate, will resign his seat at the end of the year to become president of the Heritage Foundation.

Although no salary terms have been announced, the man whom DeMint will succeed has been paid more than $1 million a year, and it’s a good bet that DeMint, who is earning $174,000 a year as a senator, will get a raise to somewhere in seven figures.

The DeMint news came right on the heels of an exclusive report in Mother Jones magazine that former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, had resigned as chairman of FreedomWorks, one of the prominent political operations in the conservative movement with strong Tea Party ties. Reportedly, Armey’s severance package will leave him richer by $8 million.

Talk about striking gold. The financial windfalls visited upon these two conservative true-believers recalls the line about the congregationalist missionaries in Hawaii who seemed to find more personal prosperity than converts: “They came to do good and did very, very well!”

But if you want to know the terribly sad state of today’s Republican Party, you just have to look at the treatment of Bob Dole, who was both the presidential and the vice presidential nominee of the GOP, in addition to being his party’s Senate leader as well as its national chairman.

But long before he was a national leader, he was 2nd Lt. Bob Dole on April 14, 1945, in the hills of Italy, when a German shell tore through his right shoulder and broke his neck and spine. He had been a 6-foot-2-inch, 194-pound athlete, and after losing 70 pounds and having his body temperature rise to 108.7 degrees, he forced himself through 39 months of painful rehabilitation to learn all over again how to use the toilet, how to eat, how to wash and dress himself, and how to walk. His painfully thin right arm, some 2.5 inches shorter than his left, has been limp for 67 years.

In 1990, Dole pushed the Americans with Disabilities Act to Senate passage. President George H.W. Bush supported and signed into law the historic legislation, which has changed the face of America and the fate of millions of Americans.

Twenty-two years later, we now take for granted the wheelchair ramps in and out of our buildings, the wider doorways for greater access, the curb-cuts that remove obstacles. The ADA welcomes citizens with disabilities fully into the nation’s academic, civic, social and economic life.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, inspired by and modeled after the ADA, was negotiated and signed by the administration of President George W. Bush in 2006. One hundred fifty-four countries have signed this treaty, and 126 countries have already ratified it. The treaty would require no change in U.S. law, but would provide the framework and incentive for other countries to recognize and guarantee, as the United States already does, the rights of all people with disabilities.

Twenty-one veterans organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wounded Warrior Project — along with 30 religious and interfaith groups — endorse ratification by the Senate.

But on Tuesday, Senate Republicans caved to baseless, irrational fears about black helicopters parachuting blue-helmeted U.N. troops into American neighborhoods to punish homeschooling parents or shutter religious schools. With a wheelchair-bound Dole on the Senate floor urging just 13 Republicans to join all the Democrats and provide the two-thirds Senate vote needed to ratify, all but eight of the Republican senators rejected the plea of their former leader and American hero.

Why? Because they’re scared of a primary challenge from the right. That’s why. America, Bob Dole, Abraham Lincoln’s party and 700 million of our fellow human beings with disabilities all deserve better.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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