Andrew Belonsky

Challenging Obama's UN Speech: 'Democracy' Doesn't Mean 'Equality'

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | September 26, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: President Obama, UN speech, United Nations

Sure, President Obama used his speech at the United Nations last week in part to address Middle East peace, but the crux of his commentary revolved around the superiority of our democratic living. The president forgot to point out that democracy does not mean “equality.”

“America is working to shape a world that fosters this openness, for the rot of a closed or corrupt economy must never eclipse the energy and innovation of human beings,” the President said of the States’ efforts to promote democracy, a concept he referenced nine times in his speech--ten if you count when he implored nations to donate to the UN’s Democracy Fund.

Obama went on to insist, “Democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens. And I believe that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred.”

In practice, democracy means only “one man, one vote,” a government picked by the people. In theory, these people always make the morally sound, equality-minded decisions. The United States proves that’s not the case; how else do you explain the fact that individuals in California voted down marriage equality? Or what about how our democratically elected Senate stalled on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a flaw for which the president was heckled the night before his UN speech? And where’s democracy in the fight for LGBT-inclusive employment non-discrimination? Democracy isn’t the key to success--it’s how the people use it.

The U.S. President claimed that, “The ultimate success of democracy in the world won't come because the United States dictates it; it will come because individual citizens demand a say in how they are governed.” But what does such a proclamation mean for equality, a word the President only used once during his speech: “Our predecessors [at the UN] chose the hope of unity over the ease of division and made a promise to future generations that the dignity and equality of human beings would be our common cause.”

Yet, all these blissfully democratic years later, people are still waiting for this equality of which the President speaks. If the President wants to make a stand on the international stage, then he will speak of a specifically inclusive democracy, rather than a general idea that doesn’t always work out at planned.


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Good points. However, we need to remember that democracy is a PROCESS, not an event. Minorities of all types have far more likelihood of achieveing their rights in a democracy, than in a totalitarian regime, monarchy, or other non-democratic for m of government. And of course, among democracies, there is a spectrum of rights of all the people.

Also, with a democratic forms of government, there are totally differing philosophies of the origin of rights. Some democracies have trickle-down theories, that governments grant rights. Others have a theory that people innately possess rights that governments eventually recognize. Then there is also the "tyranny of the majority", and how the mob is held in check in the various systems.

All I can say is Amen!

Democracy IS the tyranny of the majority. Period.
Start your reading with Plato's Republic.

That our presidents would make such a mistake -- Bush did it too, routinely -- speaks to this country's myopic, self-righteous view of the world beyond our borders. It goes to the heart of how we can win wars, then lose peace.

The core issue here is liberty, not equality.

Didn't Professor Obama teach constitutional law?

Don't get picky, Leigh Anne. You'll mess up Obama's carefully prepared soundbites.

In point of fact our "government" is supposed to be a Republic which differs slightly in definition from that of a Democracy. You could call a Republic a Representative Democracy. However it is my understand it should also provide for the basic rights of the individual or minority group as well.