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“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate”

Fri, Dec 21st, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

This well-known line from the movie Cool Hand Luke (1967) is perhaps more relevant today. With a plethora of communication devices contributing to superficial noise and serving to interrupt many face-to-face conversations, the ability to communicate on any substantial level can get lost in the static.

Can we no longer sincerely listen or really be heard? Does all the static get in the way of understanding and getting along? Maybe there are too many choices, too many ways to communicate, many on an impersonal level. Many of these so called communication methods allow a decrease in civility. Most would find it more difficult to be rude, offensive, and in your face mean during a face to face conversation.

Read a controversial news story on the Internet and then read the comments. Many comments only serve to put up barriers, building a wedge of anger. This kind of reactionary speech has infected political discourse.

This growing lack of civility has permeated into group interactions from the schoolyard to Congress.

In today’s politics the real friendships that had once occurred behind the scenes between political rivals are seldom developed. Conversations over a good meal which served to create more understanding and openness are a thing of the past. Political sniping for the camera which just serves to widen the divide has become the norm. Nasty tweets and other unfriendly impersonal communications are common place as no bond has been built that would curtail such messages. There is lack of respect and comity which is necessary to build a consensus.

Congress has been handcuffed not just by widely different political philosophies which have always been part of their deliberations, but even more by not developing personal relationships that allow for level headed, respectful communication.

Most every issue is looked at not only in the context of a political philosophy, but as a way to weaken the other side. Winning the message has become more important than solving a problem in the best interest of the country.

With the new year many of us make resolutions. Perhaps an effort to be more considerate, respectful, understanding, and to truly listen could be a winner for everybody.

An Embarrassment for America

Three weeks ago the United States Senate failed to ratify the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Many of the provisions in the treaty were pattered after the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry argued the treaty just says other countries have to do what the United States did 22 years ago. The treaty would ratify rights for the disabled that America already has. Kerry insisted, “This treaty is not about America, it’s about America changing the world.”

The Senate needed a two-thirds vote in favor to ratify the treaty, but fell five votes short of that with a vote of 61 to 38. All the votes against the treaty were from Republicans with only eight GOP votes in favor of ratification. The treaty to ban discrimination of people with disabilities was adopted by the United Nations in 2006 and so far 126 nations have ratified it. President Obama signed it in 2009.

This treaty is basic toward helping to establish rights for the disabled in countries across the globe. It would make world travel for disabled veterans and others easier. It mirrored the disability values of the United States established in 1990. Former President George H. W. Bush supported ratifying the measure and the treaty had been negotiated by his administration. Bush had signed the American with Disabilities Act into law maintaining it was the “world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities.” This had been a proud moment for the leadership of America.

Eighty-nine year old veteran, former Senate majority leader, and past Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole sat in his wheel chair on the Senate floor demonstrating his support for the treaty as his party voted it down.

Unfortunately, the far right of the Republican party base opposed the treaty. Republican Senators, afraid of primary challenges from the right, cowed to their base and voted against ratification. Only eight Republicans broke ranks to support a treaty which would have little, if any, effect on United States policy.

Some Republicans based their objections on this language in the treaty which stated, “In all actions concerning children with disabilities, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Another source of angst was language stating that the disabled should have “free or affordable health care, including the area of sexual and reproductive health and population-based health programs.” The right fretted that the treaty could somehow interfere with homeschooling of children with disabilities or feared it may lead to an increase in abortions.

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