Articulating an agenda of democratic renewal


The recent address by U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power at Freedom House was the latest attempt by the Biden administration to articulate its agenda of democratic renewal, notes Sarah B. Snyder, the author of “From Selma to Moscow: How Human Rights Activists Transformed U.S. Foreign Policy” and “Human Rights Activism and the End of the Cold War: A Transnational History of the Helsinki Network.”

It also reflects a historically bipartisan commitment to advancing democracy, evident in support for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), she writes for The Washington Post

This joint political and financial commitment to the stated agenda of democracy promotion explains why Power’s address echoed both the 1960s-era activists and 1980s-era government officials who thought that the United States could facilitate fundamental international change in a way that other actors simply could not. Despite abundant evidence of the perils facing democracy in 2022, including 16 years of Freedom House’s assessment that democracy is declining around the world, Power articulated an optimistic vision in line with the American exceptionalism trumpeted by both groups.

Importantly, in these contemporary efforts the United States is partnering with the United Nations, civil society and democratic allies. Power’s address and the agenda she unfurled demonstrate a belief in strong links between economic and political development as well as a potential broadening of the idea of political development or “democratic development,” to use [President Ronald] Reagan’s term.

But is there not a tension between the demonstrable bipartisan commitment to advancing democracy, and the article’s underlying insinuation that it’s an ideologically or “historically conservative” enterprise?

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