Originally uploaded in SSRN.


As the United States moves toward the inauguration in January 2009 of a new President, greater attention is paid to what the country might do to restore and reinforce its traditional role as a leader in the promotion of human rights. This essay warns against any assumption that innovation alone will assure greater enforcement of rights; its points of reference are not only the current administration, but also one long past, that of President John F. Kennedy. Rather than jump to embrace new, global concepts like responsibility to protect, therefore, it argues for careful pursuit of local change. It then turns analysis on the locality of the United States, calling for genuine efforts to address rights issues already acute at home, for example: violence, disparities in education, economic disadvantages, the crisis in health and health care. Mid-20th century U.S. human rights discourse - the American Law Institute's Statement of Essential Human Rights and President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms speech - are cited as foundations for this domestic emphasis. The sources likewise invite consideration of means for promoting rights other than judicial enforcement. The essay ends with a hope that should the United States alleviate some of these problems, and so protect the liberty and security of persons within its jurisdiction, it would eschew American exceptionalist boasts and instead let the power of its deeds bespeak its restored role as a promoter of human rights.