Monday, August 25, 2008

Election 2008, #2: Civil Liberties

For those of you late to the game, here's the founding post in this series, and here's the last one I did on energy policy, which was #7 on the list. This time I'm tackling civil liberties, which is #2 on the list. See, no particular order.

Also, a quick clerical note - I'm removing McKinney from the list. Her website is still teh suck - it doesn't have issue statements anywhere, as far as I can see - and I really can't find a whole lot about her issue stances online. So I'll adjust the scores accordingly. That gives us:

Obama - 12
McCain - 8
Barr - 4

Anyway, "civil liberties" is pretty broad, and I want to distill this question down into a few smaller ones that we can tackle easily. I'm covering civil liberties with respect to terror policy in my forthcoming terrorism/national security post, which is #3 on the list. So you won't see warrantless wiretapping, torture, extraordinary rendition, etc. in this post.

My basic question here is whether the candidate will preside over an administration that respects personal freedom. Under that umbrella, I'll tackle free speech/dissent/artistic expression issues, drug policy, and gay rights. I also want to know whether the candidates will respect the Fourth Amendment, and so I'll look at their crime policies through that lens.

Of course, no one posts "civil liberties" as an issue on their website. (As such, I won't be providing links - all the website stuff is easy to find if you want it.) Bob Barr, naturally, comes closest. He mentions eminent domain law, which is nice, especially because a) he doesn't like eminent domain and b) the executive is generally the branch that proposes eminent domain usage. You won't have to worry about a Barr Administration taking your land and giving it to developers. When it comes to marriage, Barr wants to send that issue to the states, which seems fair. He also seems to suggest that government should stay out of the marriage business altogether. Barr has nothing specific on crime policy, but he does have a statement respecting the Fourth Amendment buried in there somewhere.

Barack Obama's policy manifesto discusses crime policy in great detail as part of his "urban policy." He actually addresses the problem of police brutality and accountability, which is nice. His stated drug policy is okay - he's not going to legalize drugs right off the bat (that'd be way too much to hope for in a serious presidential contender), but he will try to fix the sentencing laws and send first-time drug offenders to rehab instead of jail. Bizarrely, he doesn't mention marriage, though at Saddleback he suggested that the issue ought to be a state issue.

John McCain's extensive crime section contains very little reference to civil liberties or the Fourth Amendment, which is worrisome because he proposes a lot of new anti-crime funding and research. McCain opposed the marriage amendment (he has nothing specific on his site regarding this issue) and would presumably let states make up their own minds as well. Oddly, his crime section also avoids drugs altogether, which makes me wonder what his policies are on the subject. This site claims McCain will continue raiding state-sanctioned medical marijuana clinics, which is a horrible idea. (By contrast, Obama has expressed support for medical marijuana.)

No one discusses free speech. That may be because no one's particularly good about it. Bob Barr cosponsored the onerous flag-burning amendment while he was in the House. He has changed a lot since then, but I don't know if he has reputed that or not. McCain gets a lot of flak from free-speech types for McCain-Feingold, which I will admit was something of a ham-handed attempt at campaign finance reform and showed little respect for free speech rights. He is, however, opposed to the awful Fairness Doctrine. Obama supports the Fairness Doctrine, and presumably supports McCain-Feingold too. I can't find a whole lot else, folks.

It doesn't seem like there are any differences on the marriage thing, and I really can't decide on the speech issue, though I'd think McCain would lag behind Obama and Barr there because his administration's necessary ties to the Christian right would lead him to enforce a bunch of bad regulations on TV and movies and whatnot. Also, Obama's website is the most free-speech friendly, and both he and Barr seem more respectful of dissent than McCain, so that's worth considering.

So we come to crime and drug policy. Barr used to be godawful on drugs and crime, but has now done pretty much a complete 180. He now supports medical marijuana and wants to end the War on Drugs. Obama's not bad, just unknown in this respect. But we can tell something by the company he keeps, and VP nominee Joe Biden, at least according to anti-drug-war warrior Radley Balko, responsible for many of the worst excesses of the War on Drugs. But don't expect McCain, who has been a drug warrior his entire time in the Senate, to be any better.

Barr's the clear winner here - I feel like he'll be the best choice to keep government away from free speech and to lead us to a sensible crime policy that protects our rights. Obama's second because he's at least open to the idea of decriminalization and federalism with respect to medical marijuana, and he mentioned police excesses. McCain doesn't seem to care much about civil liberties, so he gets third. So for this issue:

Barr - 27
Obama - 18
McCain - 9

Which leaves us at the following totals after Round 2:

Barr - 31
Obama - 30
McCain - 17

If you have any news I can use on this issue, help me out.


Matthew B. Novak said...

It seems that you've pretty much looked exclusively at the ways in which these candidates will decrease governmental regulation in these areas. What about governmental support for programs that assist people in getting/using their civil liberties? I'd imagine that both Obama and McCain would be better about that than Barr (and probably Obama better than McCain). Perhaps another look?

Mike said...

I really appreciate you doing a lot of the legwork for me on this one Jeff (though admittedly I could have predicted the Barr, Obama, McCain ranking on this particular issue). In a surprising turn of events, Bob Barr leads after two events in this decathlon. Is it possible he may bring home the gold? (No, especially not looking at some of the issues left and knowing or at least suspecting Jeff's bents on said issues.)

Matt raises an interesting point. I'm curious what programs he has in mind specifically? (I, like Jeff, tend to focus more on the absence of government intrusion as opposed to the presence of government assistance on the issue of civil liberties, so I'm really quite unaware of such programs.)

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'm thinking largely of financial support (whether direct or in tax-break form) for organizations that advocate for civil rights; equal access legislation (primarily for the disabled, but others as well) and enforcement, and how they'll come down on the free exercise vs. establishment dillemma.

Matthew B. Novak said...

I'd also throw civil rights for immigrants (both legal and il) into this mix too.

Jeff said...

Matt - I make a distinction between civil liberties (constitutionally protected freedoms) and civil rights. I'll cover a lot of civil rights issues when I tackle regulatory enforcement (#4), since that's the main area of influence the executive has over such issues. The Bush administration has done most of its eviscerating of civil rights by not enforcing regulations that are on the books.

Free exercise/establishment and immigration are both excellent issues that just missed the cut. They'd probably be 11 and 12. I'll get into church/state separation somewhat when I talk about education policy (#9) and the judiciary (half of #10). Immigration was an oversight on my part - especially because the executive, via the ICE, has influence over visa enforcement and asylum policies - and I'll probably give y'all a bonus post on that. Thanks for pointing that out.