March 20, 2009
Last night President Obama went on the Tonight Show. Deciding to go off-teleprompter, the President made a joke at the expense of the disabled, saying that his bowling skills might qualify him for "the Special Olympics." In other words, America was treated to the spectacle of her President engaging in a less-funny version of the traditional Rodney Dangerfield send-up ("I tell ya, I don't get no respect. I went bowling the other day, and my wife Michelle tells me...") Lovely. (It should be noted that Obama has since apologized for the comment.)
Jocular merits aside, one can't help but wonder: would Obama's joke violate the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? The Convention has a host of problems, not the least of which is its potential to be extremely anti-life, but to its credit it's very clear about stereotyping the disabled in a negative way. For example, Article 8, Section 1 states that state parties should take actions: "(a) To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities; (b) To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life; (c) To promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities." Article 8, Section 2 urges state parties "To promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness towards persons with disabilities;" (a, ii) and "To promote recognition of the skills, merits and abilities of persons with disabilities, and of their contributions to the workplace and the labour market;" (a, iii). This is to happen not merely at the governmental level, but also by "Encouraging all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention;" (c) Somehow I don't think that the nation's highest executive authority belittling the athletic skills of the disabled on the top-rated late night talk show is quite what the Convention has in mind.
Thankfully for President Obama the United States is not a signatory to the Convention, and has not moved to ratify it, so his flub won't be discussed during any periodic reports before the implementation committee anytime soon. On the other hand, Obama's campaign did promise to see the treaty ratified by the Senate. While I may think Obama's joke last night was in poor taste, I certainly don't think it should be subject to the scrutiny of a bevy of liberal, cosmopolitan "human rights experts" at the UN. Does President Obama? Does he still support the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? Or is his policy simply to belittle the disabled at home, and empower their radically liberal "advocates" abroad?