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Why Obama Won't Embrace the Declaration of Independence

The administration's admission of sins to the UN is just the latest example.

12:53 PM, Aug 31, 2010 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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A few miles up the road from Ground Zero, the Obama administration recently submitted its account of the United States human rights record to the United Nations Human Rights Council.  The administration’s report, the first ever submitted by this nation to that body (whose members include Libya and Cuba), was succinctly summarized by identical Washington Post and CBS News headlines:  “US admits human rights shortcomings in UN report.”

Why Obama Won't Embrace the Declaration of Independence

It’s certainly telling that the Obama administration chose to issue condemnations of America’s sins — alleged or otherwise, past or present — and to submit these to the UN. But even more illuminating is what the administration chose to omit in its report. In a 29-page overview of the respect (or lack thereof) for rights shown in America and throughout American history, the administration couldn’t find space for a single meaningful reference to the document that lays out and informs our fundamental conceptions of rights more than any other: the Declaration of Independence. This omission offers further compelling evidence to support an increasingly obvious truth: President Obama doesn’t take seriously the ideals of the American revolutionary period. Or, to state it more exactly, he takes very seriously the project of overcoming or supplanting those ideals.  

To be sure, the report discusses a wide variety of topics.  It conveys that the Obama administration supports Obamacare (surprise!), praises the “economic stimulus” package, opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” promotes bilingual ballots, and is committed to the use of “smart power” in foreign affairs (employing “determined diplomacy” and “harnessing the full potential of international institutions”).  It offers self-aggrandizing statements — “Thirty years ago, the idea of having an African-American president would not have seemed possible; today it is our reality” (Did the thought of a black President really seem impossible in 1980?) — false and peculiar statements — “Our recent health care reform bill also lowers costs and offers greater choices for women, and ends insurance company discrimination against them” — and utterly confused statements:  “The recession in the United States was fueled largely by a housing crisis, which coincided with some discriminatory lending practices.”  (That’s right, “discriminatory,” not “indiscriminate.”  But not to worry:  “[T]he federal government has focused resources and efforts to determine whether and where discrimination took place, as well as to ensure greater oversight going forward”).  Yes, the Obama administration found room for all of this — as well as for a nearly 1-page-long ode to Obamacare — but essentially no space for the Declaration.   

Rather, the report declares, “[H]uman rights have not only been part of the United States since the beginning, they were the reason our nation was created.  From its adoption in 1789, the U.S. Constitution has been the central legal instrument of government and the supreme law of the land.” There seems to be something missing here. Reading this, one would assume that the United States was created in 1789, not 1776.  The Revolutionary War, too, seems to have disappeared.  

Even when it seems like it would have been hard to avoid referencing the Declaration, the report skirts it, often preferring non-American references. Immediately under the heading of the United States’s own “commitment to freedom, equality, and dignity,” the report states, “Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’ and that they are ‘endowed with reason and conscience.’”

For those who are unfamiliar with it, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a document that offers statements about “rights and freedoms” like this one: “Everyone has the right to education…. Elementary education shall be compulsory.... It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”  (Who knew that compulsory education in the service of the UN was a right?)

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