The United States Congress demonstrated this week why more Americans hate it in 2012 than any other point in our history. We saw bipartisan, bicameral ignorance at last week's hearing on the federal response to autism and today's vote against a United Nations treaty to improve conditions for people with disabilities.
I have focused here on the inclusion of autistic people at the hearing, but the Representatives themselves were embarrassing. Dan Burton angered Steven Salzberg:
Burton himself was the worst offender, offering anecdotes and bad science with an air of authority. He stated bluntly:
“I’m convinced that the mercury in vaccinations is a contributing factor to neurological diseases such as autism.”
No, it isn’t. Dozens of studies, involving hundreds of thousands of children, have found the same thing: there is no link whatsoever between thimerosal and autism, or between vaccines and autism. And Burton went off the deep end with this:
“It wasn’t so bad when a child gets one or two or three vaccines… Mercury accumulates in the brain until it has to be chelated.”
Bang bang, two false claims in 10 seconds. First he claims that mercury from vaccines “accumulates in the brain”, a statement with no scientific support at all. Then he claims that chelation therapy is the solution – a radical, potentially very harmful treatment that no sensible parent would ever force on their child. Unfortunately, some quack doctors have experimented with chelation therapy on autistic children, despite that fact that it can cause deadly liver and kidney damage, and one of them caused the death of a 5-year-old boy in 2005.
Burton is a Republican, but I was also horrified by Democrats Dennis Kucinich trying to blame autism on coal (!) and Carolyn Maloney trying to bully Dr. Coleen Boyle into telling her what she wanted to hear, no matter what science says.
Democrats in the Senate supported the Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities:
But the treaty has split Republicans. Among its most vocal supporters were Republican war veterans, including President George H.W. Bush and former senator Bob Dole, who was injured in World War II and made a rare return to the Senate floor Tuesday to observe the vote and lend his stature.
Other conservatives were deeply suspicious of the United Nations, which would oversee treaty obligations. Those who opposed the treaty included former senator and Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, the father of a developmentally disabled child who had traveled to Capitol Hill last week to encourage fellow Republicans to vote no.
He and other conservatives argued that the treaty could relinquish U.S. sovereignty to a U.N. committee charged with overseeing a ban on discrimination and determining how the disabled, including children, should be treated. They particularly worried that the committee could violate the rights of parents who choose to home school their disabled children.
“This is a direct assault on us,” Santorum said.
Treaties require a two-thirds majority. This one failed with 61 votes for and 38 votes against. Disability activists reacted with strong emotion:
Rhonda Neuhaus, who was born without legs, wept as the vote was tallied. “I’m angry, and I’m very sad,” said Neuhaus, who attended Brandeis University and is now a policy analyst at the Washington-based Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.
“Today, the irrational and outrageous opposition of a bloc of Republican senators denied Senate ratification of the CRPD, betraying the US’s historic role as a global leader in fighting discrimination and opening doors of opportunity for people with disabilities,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The Sunlight Foundation has created a tool at CapitolWords.org that allows you to see how often words and phrases have ben used in the congressional record since 1996. As you can see in the pie chart above, Republicans have used the word "autism" significantly more than Democrats.
Also, Republicans have talked a lot more about the "autism epidemic":
Democrats have mentioned "Asperger's syndrome" more often: