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

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

6
George Bush and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Edward D. Berkowitz

When George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990, he did so with a great sense of enthusiasm and ceremony. The president viewed the legislation as a humanitarian gesture that would nonetheless pay substantial political dividends. In this regard, the legislation fit a long historical pattern. As with other forms of social-welfare legislation, however, the president and his party failed to collect the political dividends.1


THE CEREMONY

On July 18, only five days after the legislation had cleared Congress, the White House Office of Public Liaison mailed thousands of letters to leaders of the disability rights movement inviting them to a special ceremony on the South Lawn.2 At first, White House staff had contemplated using the East Room for the event. That location had the advantages of protection from the fierce midsummer heat and of a fitting historical resonance: It was the site on which President Lyndon Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law. That 1964 legislation was the closest analogue to the ADA, since the ADA did for people with disabilities what the 1964 law had done for other minorities. In the minds of the leaders of the disability rights movement, the advantages of the East Room were outweighed by its small size. They contemplated a ceremony with as many as 3,000 people, and the White House obliged.

The event itself went off without a hitch. No one in the audience, composed largely of people in wheelchairs and people with sensory impairments, succumbed to the heat, even though the temperature was in the eighties and would reach 92 de-

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