Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview
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Discussant: Justin Dart, Jr.

I was one of thousands who supported the ADA and who caused its passage, and you see many of them before you at this table here. I congratulate Professor William Levantrosser and all who have contributed to this historic conference. What an honor it is to be here today with Dean Jim Johnson and with hall-of-fame contributors to the rights of people with disabilities, like Frank Bowe, Paul Hearne, Boyden Gray, Joe Shapiro, and Lucy Wong.

Ed Berkowitz has made an excellent presentation. I know my colleagues on the panel will respond to it in detail. I will focus my remarks on the issues of empowerment, the ADA, and the involvement of President Bush in our struggle.

I passionately believe that the most important issue for people with disabilities—the most important issue for humanity now—is empowerment. I passionately believe that we who have disabilities, we who do not have disabilities, will never achieve our full potential until we empower ourselves and communicate the concept and the process of empowerment into the consciousness and action of society. I propose that we of the disability community lead a revolution of empowerment, a revolution that will empower every twenty-first-century human to live his or her God-given potential for self-determination, productivity, and quality of life. I propose a new vision of government, a government whose task is not to govern people and to provide the good life for them, but to empower people to govern their own lives and communities, and to produce the good lives for themselves and for all. The golden age of science and democracy cannot be achieved in any other way.

The revolution of empowerment has already begun in a very real but incomplete and unfocused way. Nineteenth- and twentieth-century America empowered wave after wave of oppressed people to participate equally in the free-enterprise system. The result was the richest, most-democratic culture in history. But too many people are left out. All people are limited by the massive residue of paternalistic attitudes, bureaucracy, and regulation that still exist in government and in the private sector.

The disability rights movement has pioneered empowerment. We have initiated numerous empowerment laws and programs: Independent Living, 504, the IDEA, supported employment, deinstitutionalization, home- and community-based services, and the magnificent ADA. Now we must pull all this together to communicate a focused philosophy and process of empowerment that all can understand and support.

President Bush made an historic contribution to an empowerment society when he supported and signed the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA is a landmark in the evolution of human beings. After an eternity of outcast status, poverty, and early death, people with disabilities are declared full members of the human race. ADA opens the doors of opportunity for millions of isolated, dependent


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Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency
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