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Demand candidates discuss human rights

| Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The 2016 race to hold the office of President of the United States has begun. Even though there are more than 400 days until election day and the first primaries will not be held for months, most candidates have already declared that they are officially in. They are fundraising, campaigning and ready to do almost whatever it takes to get votes. Some might cozy up to the Koch brothers or even take selfies with Kim Kardashian, if that is what it takes.

As we enter into election season, history will repeat itself, and the issues Americans truly care about will come to the forefront. It is going to become clear where our priorities lie as a nation. Candidates will try to address citizens’ concerns and propose new policy with the goal of assuaging fears and ensuring the ballots add up in their favor. Some of the topics they will undoubtedly discuss include the growing global presence of the Islamic State, immigration policies, President Obama’s failures in office and Donald Trump’s “hair.”

While these issues certainly warrant in-depth discussion (especially the hair), matters of human dignity are often forgotten during election cycles. Certainly, current debates such as the potential defunding of Planned Parenthood and the proper strategies to address Islamic extremism inadvertently deal with this concept. However, most conversations concerning abortion and Planned Parenthood take turns for the worse when words such as “murderer” and “anti-woman” are thrown around, and the goal of protecting human dignity — including that of the mothers and families who are faced with tough decisions regarding abortion — is left behind. When it comes the most effective way to put an end to the atrocities committed by ISIS, discussions never seem to include the stories of innocent lives lost or damaged but instead focus primarily on military funding and NSA surveillance restrictions.

We have lost sight of what is truly important: the protection of each human being’s inherent sense of dignity. We have stopped questioning how our next leader will work to do things like eliminate poverty, rid our country of institutionalized racism and ensure that people feel safe walking around in their neighborhoods. Instead, we would rather focus on the details of the Bush political dynasty and Tonette Walker’s stance on gay marriage. For the most part, human dignity is no longer a concern of presidential candidates.

Some may say that this should not be a pressing matter. They argue that our next commander-in-chief should be focused on issues such as the economy, foreign policy making and the maintenance of the United States’ position as a world leader. There is no doubt in my mind that these topics should be addressed. However, we must acknowledge that every policy has the potential to affect real people and rob them of their dignity.

If we do not first establish that every person has an inherent sense of dignity and a fundamental right to have it protected, we are doing our fellow human beings a disservice. When we, as privileged citizens of the United States, get caught up in political scandals and neglect to protect the dignity of people abroad and in our own country, we are no longer doing our duty. We fail one another when we turn a blind eye to issues of poverty, inadequate healthcare and oppression.

During Fr. Hesburgh’s time as our University president, he spent a great deal of time dealing with humanitarian crises around the world and often confronting issues the American president at the time rarely addressed. While touring through Thailand in the early 1980s, he remarked that progress towards resolving its current refugee crisis was blocked by political obstacles. In discussion with the king of Thailand, he asserted, “When politics rise above humanitarianism, then civilization faces disaster.” These words were true when Fr. Ted spoke them in the ’80s and they still ring true today.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, more than 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty (making less than $1.25 a day). The idea of civilization facing “disaster” and the low prioritization of the protection of human dignity may be a distant concept for many Americans, but it is the reality that billions of people around the world face every day.

Throughout American history, the power of the presidency has increased dramatically. Not only does the office of the president have a much longer job description, but it also comes with an unprecedented amount of influence over the citizens of the United States and the greater global community.

It is time that we start demanding more of the people who wish to hold this office and focusing on the most important issues of our world today. It is time for human dignity to join the discussion.

Elizabeth Hascher is a sophomore living in Lewis Hall. She hails from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is studying political science with a minor in international development studies. She can be contacted at ehascher@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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