Graded on a curve against other recent administrations, the Bush Administration scores a C- (minus) for its promotion of humans rights at home and abroad, according to the Center on Democratic Performance at Binghamton University, which today issued its first annual Presidential Human Rights Performance Report Card.
Developed much like grading systems used by faculty in universities around the country, the report card features specific criteria for evaluation. Each indicator is weighted by its importance to the overall mission of promoting and ensuring human rights, and each is graded based on performance indicators, said Patrick Regan, director of the Center on Democratic Performance and professor of political science at Binghamton.
The seven indicators are:
- the number of times the president refers to human rights in the State of the Union address;
- the number of political prisoners, political detainees, and detainees held without trial as identified by Amnesty International;
- an index of child welfare concerns, which includes the percentage of persons under 18 living in poverty and the number of juvenile executions;
- asylum cases approved from highly repressive countries;
- the number of visits by heads of states from highly repressive countries,
- the number of International Labor Organization agreements signed; and
- the percent of the discretionary budget allocated to international agencies committed to human rights issues.
Each category is weighted to reflect its relative importance in determining the overall grade, and the weighted aggregate of the individual indicators reflects an overall grade for an administration’s preferences and policies regarding human rights. In order of importance the assigned weights are 25 percent for the State of the Union address, 20 percent for violations of Integrity of Person issues, 15 percent for child welfare provisions, 15 percent for financial support to human rights organizations, 10 percent to the approval of asylum petitions, 10 percent for visits from heads of states from human rights violating countries, and 5 percent for the number of signed human rights agreements.
To generate a grade for the current administration, the Center adopted a two-pronged strategy for developing the grading standard. First, the specified data was collected from what is generally viewed as the most human rights focused of recent Administrations, that of President Jimmy Carter. Data in the same categories was then collected on President George W. Bush’s completed years in office (2001-2003.) Data was also generated on one year from Ronald Reagan’s administration (1983) and one year from George H. W. Bush’s administration (1991.) Based on these nine years, mean values were calculated on each of the indicators, along with the standard deviation on each.
In effect, this allows the current administration – as well as each subsequent year or new administration — to be judged against a mean generated by a mix of contemporary and recent presidential policies representing both of the major political parties.
While Carter’s administration still sets the high standard, Regan said the report card does not directly compare Bush’s policies to the standard set by Carter, but rather a standard set by the combined policies of a number of Bush’s predecessors. For example, the percentage of children under 18 living in poverty in 1979 (Carter) was 16.4 percent; during Reagan’s term (1983) 22.3 percent, and during George W. Bush’s second year (2002) 16.7 percent.
“The mean level of child poverty across all the recorded data used in the study was 17.9 percent,” Regan said. “Both Bush and Carter are below the mean, while Bush senior and Reagan are above the mean. In a rough sense, we use the standard deviation from the mean to determine the grade ranges on each category, using the mean on each indicator as a B grade.”
If the final year of the Carter administration is used as a reference point, Carter would have received an “A” in every category except the percentage of the population under 18 living in poverty. On this latter indicator he was at the mean level across the four administrations and would receive only a “B.” Combined with his A grade for no juvenile executions, his grade on child welfare issues would be a B+. Overall, Regan said, Carter would have received an “A” for his policies and preferences regarding human rights, generating a score of 93 out of 100.
President Bush’s grades in 2002 were a “D” for his State of the Union address, a “D” for political prisoners, a “C” on child welfare issues, a “C” on granting asylum to people from abusing states, “C” on visits by heads of state from abusing states, a “B” for human rights treaties, and a “C” for his use of discretionary money to support human rights organizations.
When his scores are weighted across all categories the President gets a C-minus for his policies and preferences regarding human rights practices in 2002, garnering 71 out of 100 points. President Reagan in 1983 would have received a B-minus for the importance he placed on human rights issues, whereas George H.W. Bush would have received a B-minus.
The Clinton administration was not included in the analysis in an effort to avoid biasing the result toward Democratic administrations and against the current Bush presidency. There are nine years included in the study-four from the Carter administration, which in general have the potential to bias the study against Bush, and five from Republican administrations, including Reagan, Bush Sr., and President Bush.
“The difference in the grades between presidents Carter and Bush do not necessarily suggest that the United States is more repressive today than under President Carter, but rather that President Carter paid much closer attention to issues of human rights, put much more emphasis on questions of human rights when developing foreign policy, and was much more likely to describe the preferences of his administration as being predicated on advancing global standards of human rights than President Bush is willing to do,” Regan noted.
At the same time, Regan thinks President Bush’s grade can be seen as important to analysis of such current issues as the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.
“If the President had scored higher on this report card, then we could be more confident in assigning culpability to lower levels of the military hierarchy, possibly finding more credibility in the tendency to blame the enlisted soldiers,” Regan said.
The Center on Democratic Performance was established in 1999 at Binghamton University as a research center of the Research Foundation of State University of New York. Its mission is to assist the academic and policy communities in understanding the functioning and performance of democratic political institutions. Since 1999 the Center has undertaken a number of research projects, country assessments, and held workshops on topics ranging from satisfaction with democracy to cooperation and conflict. Another key initiative of the Center has been to generate systematic data on democratic elections around the world. The Election Results Archive provides a user-friendly database and provides information needed to evaluate elections in over 130 countries between 1974 and 2002. It is believed to be the largest such database in the world.