We were waiting through Barack Obama’s rousing speech on racial equality to hear the bedrock principle of human rights on which racial equality depends. We were waiting to hear the revolutionary words of equality that were incorporated after the Second World War by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We never heard them. The Washington special interests to whom Barack Obama is beholden wouldn’t let him say them, even if he wanted to.
Obama’s speech was powerful in so many ways. He spoke with honesty about America’s racial divide, and said things that most politicians would consider safer left unsaid. He did a marvelous job of parsing what is unfortunate but in a way inevitable from what we must insist on. The anger and “emotional baggage” of race relations won’t go away. But the despairing view that we are doomed to division must go away.
But there was one fundamental oversight in the speech that undermined his argument.
The world learned the hard way what happens when we don’t ground our understanding of human rights in the certainty that all men are created equal, and share the right to life.
In the 20th century, great thinkers with noble intentions unleashed ideologies that backfired in the most heinous ways imaginable in Europe and the Soviet Union. In horror at the genocides that took place at our very doorstep, the world’s nations rose to the moment and drafted a document in which the world cried out in one united voice: Never again.
In 1948, the United Nations enshrined the principles of equality and human rights in clear language in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Said the document:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. … Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
As Obama, America’s orator of the moment, stood to speak about the equality and human rights of the races in our time, we were waiting for him to say that all Americans have the right to life, liberty and security of person. That we are all equal, regardless of any distinction: race, color, sex, language — or birth.
But he couldn’t say that.
We thought he was going to say it when he spoke about the “band of patriots” who gathered in Philadelphia. But he didn’t mention the Declaration of Independence, to which the U.N. document owes so much. We wanted to hear him quote these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
But he couldn’t quote those words. He is beholden to special interests that make a great deal of money by denying that people have the right to life. Obama couldn’t say those things ultimately because his official position is that some people are not created equal and do not have equal rights.
And we don’t just mean abortion — though Obama has helped keep abortion legal in all nine months of pregnancy.
In 2002, as an Illinois legislator, Obama went a step further when he voted against the Induced Infant Liability Act, which would have protected babies who were “accidentally” born alive during attempts to abort them.
In a recent debate, Obama said the vote he most regrets was his vote to save Terri Schiavo’s life. Her husband, Michael, wanted Terri dead, even though she was alert and responsive to nurses and family members. He had married again, had a new child with a new woman, and he wanted Terri dead. When a judge granted his request, Congress and President Bush attempted to intervene to save her life, and not just to save her life, but to stop the dangerous precedent. They failed. Now Obama says they shouldn’t have tried.
How quickly he has gone from opposing unwanted children’s right to life to opposing unwanted women’s right to life! History assures us it won’t stop there.
Obama not only opposes the right to life — he says ending it is his highest priority. “The first thing I’d do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act,” he told Planned Parenthood last July. That would immediately turn the United States into the most pro-abortion country in the world.
It was an honor to hear Obama’s beautiful words about race.
But we were waiting to hear him agree with Frederick Douglass, who knew that improvement was impossible as long as “the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence” don’t apply to everyone. We were waiting for Barack to echo Martin Luther King Jr.’s words about that great “promissory note” of freedom that guaranteed the right to life.
He couldn’t echo the great fathers of the civil-rights movement because, in his embrace of abortion, he has broken definitively from them.
Walter Youngers’ mother said it best in the play Raisin in the Sun. Youngers is an ambitious young black man whose wife tells him she plans to abort their new child. Youngers says nothing, but Mamma speaks up. Here’s the text taken directly from the play:
“I’m waiting to hear how you be your father’s son. Be the man he was. (Pause. The silence shouts.) Your wife say she going to destroy your child. And I’m waiting to hear you talk like him and say we a people who give children life, not who destroys them — (she rises) I’m waiting to see you stand up and look like your daddy and say we done give up one baby to poverty and that we ain’t going to give up nary another one. .... I’m WAITING.”
We’re waiting too, Barack.