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

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Paul Hearne

I must begin by saying it’s a tremendous pleasure to kind of come home, and to be at Hofstra at a very different time than it was when I went to Hofstra. I was here at a time when Hofstra was a university that said—and it was—the first accessible university for people with disabilities, which was in 1967. And there was no ADA, there was no Architectural Barriers Act or Rehabilitation Act, but there was a spirit here that allowed those of us who were here, the few beginners, to grow, and that spirit, I think, has been a spirit that’s fostered activism on behalf of many Hofstra students with disabilities and others. And that’s the spirit that I think fostered me and the involvement that I had with the Americans with Disabilities Act, through Senator Dole and with the then-president Bush.

I need to begin by having a small difference with my friend Dr. Berkowitz, when he said in the paper that civil rights for people with disabilities are different. They’re not different. In fact, the point that we make from the very beginning is that civil rights for people with disabilities are the same as the civil rights for others, but need to be understood as to what the qualifications of people with disabilities are, what they can do, and where we go from there. And that is, I think, the point that—when I was sworn in, in 1988, by then-president-elect George Bush, that’s the point that I think from the very beginning Mr. Bush understood, and said, on that day, that he would assure that there was a civil rights act for persons with disabilities that would be signed in his administration. The irony was, it was two years to the day that that act was signed—almost two years to that day. And the ADA, as Justin so eloquently put it, was not the product of mine, or the product of Frank’s, or the product of any single individual or active advocate; it was the product of all persons with disabilities out there who worked very, very hard to support it. But it was the product of the commitment of George Bush, and that’s without question.

And there were times that I recall that the ADA was very frankly on the rocks. The ADA was on the rocks when then-Attorney General Thornburgh testified before the Judiciary Committee of the House—which I know you’ll remember, Boyden—at that time when the ADA was in more subcommittees than I’m mathematically competent to count, and we worried about whether or not it would get to the floor. It was that commitment of George Bush that put his attorney general in front of the Judiciary Committee to talk about the fact that it wasn’t a litigious law. It was the commitment of George Bush to work with Orrin Hatch and Senator Dole—and I was there to see that—to work out some of the agreements concerning whether the ADA would cover employers of fifteen or more, whether it would have a two-year delay period, and what sort of qualifications would apply to small business. Those were purely because George Bush said that should happen. It happened.

I think also it must go with mentioning—and even though he’s my boss, forgive my bias—that the role of Senator Bob Dole couldn’t have been overlooked in this,

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