Maher Credits Jimmy Carter With Inventing Phrase 'Human Rights'

Liberals decided long ago to deem Jimmy Carter the most successful ex-president ever. Bill Maher on his HBO show last night gave Carter credit for something that happened during his presidency, though Maher stretched it considerably.

Carter has been making the rounds to plug his new book, "A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power." His appearance on Maher's show did keep vulgarities from the host to a minimum, at least while the former president was on stage. (Video after the jump)

Right after introducing Carter to an audience that gave him a standing ovation, Maher made an assertion that rang false --

MAHER: I know you were the one who actually gave us the phrase 'human rights.' I don't think we ever had that phrase before you introduced it. I remember that, I'm old enough to remember the '70s.

CARTER: You're not that old. (laughs)

MAHER (doubling down): I remember that. Yes, I was in college and you were the guy and we never had that phrase before and now you've written this book ...

CARTER: That's right.

MAHER: ... about human rights and it's really focused on women and the problem of abuse ...

CARTER: And the deprivation of women's rights, yes.


True, Carter made human rights a priority while he was president, but to claim the phrase was nonexistent before he took office is way off the mark. Worse still, Carter didn't set the record straight.

If anyone deserves credit for popularizing the phrase "human rights" in the post-World War II era, it's probably former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt for her work as a member of the Commission on Human Rights in the newly-formed United Nations. In 1948, after two years of work with Roosevelt as chair of a drafting committee, the commission released the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If you go to the website for the Declaration, you'll see an image of Roosevelt in the top right corner of the page holding up a printed copy of the document.

The language of the Declaration, strongly reminiscent of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, is based on the belief that all people have rights to justice, equality and dignity. It was also inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt's State of the Union speech in January 1941, with war raging in Europe and Asia but the United States not yet involved, when Roosevelt described the "Four Freedoms" to which every person on earth was entitled -- freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights formed the basis for many constitutions of new countries in the post-war era and eventually became, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the most translated document in the world. On its 55th anniversary, Pope John Paul II praised it as "one of the most precious and important documents in human history. ... These rights are not a creation of the State but flow from the character and nature of humanity itself."

Carter's appearance on Maher's show was noteworthy for another reason: two remarkable statistics that were cited about the global scourge of abuse toward girls and women --

MAHER: I want to read this quote. We had Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times here about a year ago, he writes about this ...

CARTER: He's a good man.

MAHER: ... good man and he's got this issue in his sights. And just to give some context to people, he said this and I quoted it then but it probably bears repeating every week. He said, more girls were killed in the last 50 years precisely because they were girls than men were killed in all the wars of the 20th century. Yeah, you hear that reaction (gesturing to the audience, which had not responded), I think people just don't understand how deep this problem is. What do you think is the major cause of this problem?

CARTER: Well, there were about 40 million people killed in the Second World War, the most devastating war in history. There have been four times that many girls killed by their own parents when they were either born, they were strangled because they were girls and not boys, or they now find through sonograms that the fetus is female and they abort it so it won't be born as a girl.

Carter made similar statements earlier this week on "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Morning Joe." And each time he points out these staggeringly inconvenient facts, Carter is all the less likely to be interviewed again by Rachel Maddow, chief abortion apologist at MSNBC.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts