The diversity of the candidates in the Republican and Democratic primaries for the 2008 presidential election has brought issues of human rights to the forefront in our country including race, religion, gender, ethnicity, and age. In the flawed process used to select Barack Obama, a biracial candidate who identifies with African-Americans, as its presumptive nominee, the Democratic Party simultaneously managed to disgrace itself by accepting the media’s unrelenting misogynist attacks against Hillary Clinton throughout the primary. It was apparent to many the DNC was only too happy to collude with the male-dominated press (97% males in decision-making roles) in repeated efforts to force Clinton out of the race.
And even before their respective conventions have confirmed the nominations of Obama and McCain, their campaigns (not to mention their supporters in the blogosphere) have already exchanged low-life comments tinged with various forms of bigotry that incidentally cut both ways.
The above behavior in America during a presidential election year probably isn’t helping our already severely damaged image on human rights abroad. Writing for the Boston Globe this morning, John Shattuck points out in his essay titled How the US Can Get Its Groove Back:
“ONE OF THE biggest challenges facing the next president is how to restore US credibility in the world. Despite military assets unparalleled in history, US global standing has hit rock bottom.
‘“The United States government is widely perceived today to be a violator of human rights. A poll conducted by the British Broadcasting Corp. last year in 18 countries on all continents revealed that 67 percent disapproved of US detention and interrogation practices in Guantanamo. Another poll in Germany, Great Britain, Poland, and India found that majorities or pluralities condemned the United States for torture and other violations of international law. A third poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations showed that majorities in 13 countries, including traditional allies, believe ‘the US cannot be trusted to act responsibly in the world.’
“The gap between America's values and its actions has severely eroded US global influence. How does it get it back?”
Shattuck, CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library, provides thoughtful analysis and sound recommendations on addressing human rights abroad, but he does not specifically take note of internal human rights issues. (Read Shattuck’s article in its entirety here.)
I would argue that one of the best ways to lead is by example, and the United States is going to have to do a much better job in the days to come to convince the world that within our own nation we respect and honor human rights, including the rights of all women. Standing by in silent acquiescence while the media assaulted the first serious woman presidential candidate in our nation’s history is not something Americans can boast about to the rest of the world.