Happy Anniversary, ADA!

To hear any average teabagger tell it, the Federal “gubmint” is the root of all evil in the world and is actively usurping our rights as free citizens. Some of the more hard-core pseudo-Libertarian among them will go even further. Take Rand Paul. He’s the son of that famous doctor with the blimp, he’s got the namesake of the wacky arch-capitalist pseudo-philosopher, and he’s running for Senate in Kentucky. According to staunch conservatives like him, the Feds shouldn’t even have the power to enforce integration at lunch counters. With this virulent strain of insanity making the rounds of our national discourse, it’s surprising to hear a full-throated cheer for the ADA.

Until 20 years ago, people with disabilities could be discriminated against in the workplace and literally could not enter many buildings. If there wasn’t a ramp outside a restaurant or pharmacy then people in wheelchairs could just go somewhere else. Indeed, in Republican (yes, Republican) Tom Harkin of Iowa’s words:

“We heard stories of Americans who had to crawl on their hands and knees to go up a flight of stairs, or to gain access to their local swimming pool; who couldn’t ride on a bus because there wasn’t a lift; who couldn’t go to concerts or ballgames because there was no accessible seating; who couldn’t cross the street in wheelchairs because there were no curb cuts…. Twenty years later, that wall is indeed falling.”

Pretty brutal. But George the Senior signed the bipartisan bill 20 years ago today and things began changing. In fact, it’s rare to see a public place today without a wheelchair ramp or a disabled bathroom. The inclusion of people with disabilities in all facets of life has enriched our society and done justice to the physically disenfranchised. However, keep in mind, when people like Rand Paul talk about getting the government off our backs, when Rick Perry protests the “intrusion” of the Federal government on the states,when “Crazy Eyes” Bachmann talks about the great “usurper”, this is what they mean. Indeed, the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia maintains a fact sheet about the presidents and this comes from their entry about George H. W. Bush:

“Although critics of the bill thought it was too expensive, supporters generally point to it as one of Bush’s major domestic accomplishments. To this day, however, conservatives cite the ADA as an example of Bush’s “betrayal” of the Reagan Revolution.” (emphasis mine)

And that’s it in a nutshell. If the unhinged fringe that makes up the bulk of the conservative movement today had their way, we would return to a country more like what Sen Harkin described above. Pesky federal regulation is what makes our system, our country, and our society work more fairly. Left to their own devices, the nodes of free market capitalism will cut every corner and step on any toe necessary. Remember that next time John Boehner talks about a moratorium on all government regulation.

Here’s to an inclusive, egalitarian, free and fair country for everybody.

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