Why the U.S. election matters

The 2008 presidential election isn’t primarily about the economy. It’s primarily about human rights.

Ronald Reagan once borrowed biblical language to describe the USA as a “shining city upon a hill“. President Reagan had a valid point. Despite serious flaws (e.g., frequent meddling in the internal affairs of other states, not least by Reagan himself) the USA was widely regarded as a symbol of democracy and freedom.

But now, when I watch this video, I immediately think of the ways in which the USA is violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Nobody has the right to torture you? You have the right to a fair and public trial? You are innocent until proven guilty? You have the right to privacy? You have the right to enjoy freedom from persecution in other countries? You have the right to organize peacefully?
RNC protest

Re torture:  John McCain stated again, in the first debate, that he opposes torture:

We’ve got to make sure that we have people who are trained interrogators so that we don’t ever torture a prisoner ever again.

On the other hand, McCain supported legislation that could provide a loophole for the CIA to get away with torture. That specific stance has obscured McCain’s position on torture:  particularly when taken in conjunction with his recent tendency to genuflect to the Republican base on the issues of most importance to them (e.g. immigration).

And what about the other issues identified above? Sarah Palin certainly talks as if all U.S. detainees are terrorists:  i.e., she assumes the detainees are guilty until they have proven themselves innocent. But U.S. detainees are denied the opportunity to demonstrate their innocence because they are not granted a fair and public trial. It is likely that tens of thousands of innocent people — e.g., these seven Chinese Uighurs — have been locked up and tortured by the American government. Would that evil change under a McCain administration?

As for the right to organize peacefully:  the above photograph documents a crackdown on protests outside the Republican National Convention. We can’t assume that Republicans and Democrats support the rights of protesters equally.

This election is primarily about fundamental human rights. Americans need to turn the page not only on the Bush Administration, but also on the Republican Party.

I’m grateful that Americans will likely do just that.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bridgett
    Oct 20, 2008 @ 21:04:43

    I have two quotes on my fridge, attached with magnets. One, unrelated, is: “Where I need the ten commandments is in my heart. It does me no good to be hanging in the Montgomery County Courthouse” which is a southern minister commenting on public display of the ten commandments…and this one, from Mother Jones, I think last month, quoting Jimmy Carter–about what the next president needs to do in his first 100 days. Carter said, it won’t take 100 days, it will take 10 minutes and he should say:

    ‘My country will never again torture a prisoner. We will never again attack another country unless our security is directly threatened. Human rights will be the foundation of our foreign policy. We will act on global warming. We will honor international agreements. We will bring security and peace to Israel and all its neighbors and treat them all on an equal basis.'”


  2. Stephen
    Oct 22, 2008 @ 07:31:07

    Thanks for that, Bridgett.

    Nothing matters more than getting the fundamentals right. Most of the time, in Western democracies, we have the luxury of arguing over a lot of secondary or tertiary matters.

    Thanks to the Bush administration and, more generally, the neo-conservative tilt of the Republican Party, Americans are now fighting over the fundamentals: things that democratic countries have taken for granted for literally hundreds of years (e.g. habeus corpus).


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