For lack of five votes, the U.S. Senate this week failed to ratify a United Nations treaty that would have banned discrimination against people with disabilities – a treaty that would have urged the world to follow the admirable standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And so a subject that hardly should be controversial – securing rights for the disabled – devolved into controversy nonetheless in a Capitol now close to dysfunctional. The treaty failed 61-38.

This happened because Republican senators, including Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, decided the treaty was a threat to U.S. sovereignty or a threat to home-schoolers, or, for those up for election in 2014 and fearing a challenge from the tea party right, perhaps a threat to their careers.

Saddest of all: They acted out the drama in front of one of their elder statesmen – former Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, now frail from age and war injuries, who exercised a little-used right of retired senators and came onto the floor to urge passage.

Dole sat quietly in a wheelchair near the same spot where more than 43 years ago he delivered his first speech – a speech on disability rights. Many years later, by then one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, D.C., Dole pushed for passage of the ADA, which to this day helps Americans struggling with the slights and humiliations of disabilities.

Source: An op-ed piece that appeared in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  For the complete editorial, visit