Human rights and the election, Part 1:Is a Human rights president a weak president?

Its not likely that you would find a presidential candidate that is against human rights, and certainly during this election year there are plenty of human rights issues to be concerned about:

  • Darfur, 
  • Guantanamo, 
  • the International Criminal Court, 
  • torture
  • …just to name a few. 

And there is no shortage of opinions on what to do about all of these issues.So why is it that human rights issues take such a backseat in presidential campaigns?The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF) found that so far, only 5% of questions posed to presidential candidates were about human rights issues. Earlier this week CAPAF hosted a panel discussion and released reports on its findings concerning human rights issues in the campaigns.In the next few posts, I will present what each of the panelists had to say on the subject. Feel free to comment! It should also be noted that this was not a partisan event – its was strictly a look at how human rights issues are addressed in a presidential election.  Karen De Young, associate Editor for the Washington Post was the first to speak, and she gave an overview of human rights in the context of the past in various presidencies. “There has been a long strain of exceptionalism in US reluctance to criticized when commerce or strategically important countries have been involved,” she continued. “Commercial interests have continued unabated as an influence on human rights policies, and the threat of communism has been replaced by the threat of terrorism.” “But I believe on balance, in varying degrees, for self interest and altruism, for conservative reasons and liberal ones, in fits and starts, and ups and downs, the United States for many years had a legitimate claim to being considered a positive force for human rights in the world. And it was recognized as such. Others criticized it, sometimes legitimately, sometimes not. The death penalty is something abhorred by our closest allies, our massive prison population is justifiably denounced, a favorite Soviet response to US human rights criticism was to point out the historical treatment of people of color…”The difference now, is that the United States is not only accused of failing to live up to its high ideals, cutting corners and putting strategic and commercial interests above human rights concerns; it is accused of intentionally violating many of the very specific rules of decency and law for which we have long criticized others: torture, secret detention, suspension of legal rights, disdain for international treaties and conventions.”In the current election, Ms. DeYoung says, free trade will continue to be a major discussion. She believes there are economic arguments to be made on both sides of the issue. The next president like those before, will have to find that balance – and it won’t be perfect.”Despite our belief that we have the responsibility to feed the hungry and protect the abused, we’ll never do enough to help people in places like Darfur,” she continued. “We’ll always be straddling the fence to some degree.”All of the current candidates, she points out are against torture, but none of them can agree on its definition. Everyone is against human suffering such as that in Darfur, but “history has shown many times over that when faced with the very real tensions between competing priorities in office as opposed to on the campaign, we simply don’t know what a president is going to do.””But the arguments are important and we all need to continue to press our government and our candidates to use US power and resources to express our better self as a nation.” 


One response to “Human rights and the election, Part 1:Is a Human rights president a weak president?

  1. Pingback: Human rights and the election, Part 2: Are we compelled enough? « 40Brown

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