Sunday, November 2, 2008

The eyes have it

Every now and then some news comes down the line to remind us that this election we're dealing with is about more than our own petty political culture rivalries. We're reminded that the decision we make will have some impact on the world around us —yes, even the world beyond our borders. News of a U.N. fact finding tour reporting on evidence of systematic violence and repression perpetrated by Columbian security forces is one such reminder.

Some might argue that the human rights abuses of some Central American regime are not our concern. I can hear the word 'sovereignty' being invoked already. But to pretend the violence in Columbia does not concern us is quite simply to deny reality —and culpability. The security forces involved operate with our training and our tax dollar support.

This isn't an issue for partisan finger pointing. American support for the Columbian regime traces back through several administrations and any responsible discussion of the issue should involve a balanced appraisal of our engagement. It should involve candid debate.

We haven't had the debate on human rights policy I would have liked us to have in the presidential campaign. Both candidates made occasional reference to the issue, but the media lens was always focused elsewhere.

I can only recall one particular exchange, that during the very last debate (shown here) —for me one roll of the eyes told a great deal. Barack Obama was explaining that his opposition to a bill advancing Columbian trade status was premised in his concern about the repressive record of the Columbian regime. McCain wasn't prepared to refute Obama's reservations about the Columbian regime, not as they discussed trade policy. He wasn't willing to connect that dot. Instead, he was ready roll his eyes as if to comment that concern for human rights had no place in a discussion of trade policy —that to suggest as much was deridably absurd.

That roll of the eyes said a mouthful.

If we want to talk about this country as a moral leader in the world, as any sort of beacon of freedom, we are going to do so by actually exerting that leadership. Examining our trade policy in terms of human rights isn't protectionist or isolationist, as Senator McCain and Obama's critics have charged. It's actually just the opposite. It sees the notion of free trade as related to the notion of freedom —and dignity. Obama's comment, to me, indicated that he understood that connection.

And John McCain just rolled his eyes.

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