Barr - 31
Obama - 30
McCain - 17
So now that terror policy is a big national issue again thanks to Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin's "constitution SUX LOL" bit at the convention, I thought this would be a good time to take a look at what the candidates themselves; you know, the ones actually running for president, as opposed to the ones who look like Tina Fey. To the issues, which each candidate covers rather extensively...
Bob Barr (platform here, more here) is predictably restrictive when it comes to terror surveillance policies. Barr wants to limit the government's surveillance power to only what is absolutely necessary to maintain security. He criticizes FISA and certain elements of the Patriot Act (which, ironically, he helped write). Most notably, he says that any surveillance powers must be consistent with the Constitution, and he has a pretty expansive view of what the Constitution prohibits. If he wants to limit private companies' data-banking, you can be sure he'll limit a lot of the federal government's efforts to do the same.
John McCain (platform here - you'd think a major-party campaign would have copy editors good enough to catch the massive typo on line 4... sorry, that kind of thing really distracts me) talks about a lot of things, but I'll highlight a couple of important issues. First, he supported the Military Commissions Act, which placed responsibility for prosecuting suspected terrorists in the hands of military tribunals. I don't think the act is a horrible compromise, but his platform contains the following line:
John McCain is more concerned with protecting the American people from future terrorist attacks, by killing or bringing to justice those who commit them, than he is with giving terrorists rights that would allow a judge to set them free before they are tried.Such misunderstanding and misstating of the rights of the accused borders on an automatic DQ, in my book. Second, he wants to beef up the border patrol, which is probably a good thing. Third, he stresses cooperation between federal intelligence and law-enforcement and local and international agencies. He wants terror-fighting funds to be allocated based on risk - which would be a welcome change from the current way of doing things.
Barack Obama (platform here), like McCain, wants money doled out based on risk. Also like McCain, he wants to strengthen security around chemical plants and nuclear power generators. I couldn't find talk about intelligence gathering and detainees on his website, but I'll try to tackle some of this stuff: One, he opposes Bush's ridiculous use of classification, and wants to institute a declassification agency to handle such things. Obama was a critic of the MCA and at least talks like he respects habeas corpus for all. Obama's stance on intelligence, however, is somewhat amorphous - he has spoken out against FISA abuses, but voted not to punish the abusers.
On to the analysis.
The quote everyone loves to use here comes from Ben Franklin: "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." But it's often misused in a way that sets liberty and security in opposition. They are not - there are many ways to protect ourselves against attack without sacrificing liberty. Securing chemical plants and spent nuclear fuel are among those ways. The point Franklin was trying to make is that when the two do intersect, we should always choose liberty. It's clear from his support for warrantless wiretaps and opposition to the rights of the accused that McCain chooses security, and for that he gets an automatic third place finish.
Obama's support for telecom immunity in FISA is troubling, even if it was a stance taken out of political expediency. I'm not sure I want a president willing to sacrifice the law for politics, and that's something I know Barr wouldn't do. However, Obama would be excellent on detainees' rights. As would Barr, of course. The questions I have, then: would Barr be too afraid of taking enough of the non-liberty-violating security steps, like securing chemical plants and nuclear plants? And would Barr's admirable zeal for liberty interfere with legitimate, non-liberty-threatening surveillance and intelligence gathering? And when Obama is faced with a choice between expanding his listening powers and preserving liberty, which will he choose? The answer to all of these is, sadly, "I don't know." Obama doesn't seem like a threat to liberty, but the FISA vote makes me queasy. Barr doesn't seem incompetent, but his lack of a security plan bugs me.
Since I have to make a choice, I'll go with Obama, since he appears to have a plan to take care of some of the obvious security risks we face and he's still pretty darn good when it comes to not crapping on the Constitution. We'll keep our fingers crossed that he listens to the Russ Feingolds of the world when it comes to wiretapping under his administration. (Incidentally, if any of you Barr supporters have info that would suggest that Obama would be really bad on privacy issues, let me know please - this ranking is open to change!)
So for this issue, that gives us:
Obama - 24
Barr - 16
McCain - 8
And a cumulative score of:
Obama - 54
Barr - 47
McCain - 25