The Obama administration, in a reversal of policy, joined the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. This obligates the U.S. to submit an annual self-evaluation called the Universal Periodic Review. The State Department submitted the first such review on Friday, and the document became public today. You can read it here.
So, is it another Obama apology to the world? No, actually. In fact, some liberals likely would consider it a triumphalist account of American history. Moreover, near its beginning the report says:
Some may say that by participating we acknowledge commonality with states that systematically abuse human rights. We do not. There is no comparison between American democracy and repressive regimes.
What is annoying about the report, rather, is its consistent conflation of liberal social policy with human rights. In the left-wing lexicon, it seems that everything that sounds nice is a human right. Partly for this reason, the report reads like campaign literature for the Obama administration.
Thus, for example, we have this on the topic of “Fairness, equality and women”:
As one of President Obama’s first official acts, he signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which helps women who face wage discrimination recover their lost wages. Shortly thereafter, the President created the White House Council on Women and Girls to seek to ensure that American women and girls are treated fairly and equally in all matters of public policy. Thus, for instance, the Administration supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which will help ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work. Our recent health care reform bill also lowers costs and offers greater choices for women, and ends insurance company discrimination against them.
Minorities figure prominently, as you would expect. This is perhaps the report’s most questionable passage, but it is also pretty standard-issue political rhetoric that you might hear from some Republicans:
The United States aspires to foster a society in which, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, the success of our children is determined by the “content of their character.” We are not satisfied with a situation where the unemployment rate for African Americans is 15.8%, for Hispanics 12.4%, and for whites 8.8%, as it was in February 2010. We are not satisfied that a person with disabilities is only one fourth as likely to be employed as a person without disabilities. We are not satisfied when fewer than half of African-American and Hispanic families own homes while three quarters of white families do. We are not satisfied that whites are twice as likely as Native Americans to have a college degree. The United States continues to address such disparities by working to ensure that equal opportunity is not only guaranteed in law but experienced in fact by all Americans.
The report calls it equal opportunity, but what it describes is equality of outcomes. With respect to minorities, as elsewhere, the report rapidly descends into triviality:
On July 29, 2010, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, requiring the Justice Department to disclose data on cases in Indian Country that it declines to prosecute and granting tribes greater authority to prosecute and punish criminals. The Act also expands support for Bureau of Indian Affairs and Tribal officers. It includes new provisions to prevent counterfeiting of Indian-produced crafts and new guidelines and training for domestic violence and sex crimes, and it strengthens tribal courts and police departments and enhances programs to combat drug and alcohol abuse and help at-risk youth. These are significant measures that will empower tribal governments and make a difference in people’s lives.
So “counterfeiting of Indian-produced crafts” is a human rights issue? If you’re a liberal, apparently everything is. The report includes this ludicrous account of the recent economic crisis:
Following the recent economic crisis, the issue of predatory lending, and particularly discriminatory lending, is an area of enforcement focus. The recession in the United States was fueled largely by a housing crisis, which coincided with some discriminatory lending practices. The subsequent foreclosure crisis has disproportionately affected communities of color, and the federal government has focused resources and efforts to determine whether and where discrimination took place, as well as to ensure greater oversight going forward to prevent similar crises in the future. In this respect President Obama signed major financial reform legislation in 2010 that includes a new consumer protection bureau, among other provisions.
In Iran they stone you, in Saudi Arabia they try to get a hospital to sever your spinal cord, and in Africa you get raped by U.N. peacekeepers. Here, the government encouraged banks to lend more money than borrowers were able to repay. But it’s all human rights for the Obama administration.
The problem with this partisan identification of human rights with favored political measures is that it demeans real human rights–the right to self-government, freedom of speech, security against arbitrary arrest and various kinds of abuse. Obama is already on record, criticizing the Constitution and the civil rights movement for protecting only “negative rights,” which means freedom, and arguing that “positive rights,” which means the right to other people’s money, should be assured as well. The State Department’s self-assessment is entirely consistent with that view.