Sunday, March 02, 2008

The litmus test on civil liberties

By Libby

Nice to see somebody in the media looking beyond the silly horserace narrative. Jeffrey Rosen has a good op-ed in the NYT today that addresses a real issue of concern.
IF Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian. Throughout his career, Mr. Obama has been more consistent than Hillary Clinton on issues from the Patriot Act to bans on flag burning. At the same time, he has reached out to Republicans and independents to build support for his views. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, has embraced some of the instrumental tacking of Bill Clinton, whose presidency disappointed liberal and conservative civil libertarians on issue after issue.
That's certainly true enough. I often hear people wax nostalgic about the Clinton years, and in many ways he was a good president, but as a drug policy reformer I can never forget that his adminstration was a disaster in the war on some drugs. While he didn't invent the egregious infringements on civil liberties that were spawned in the 80s "tough on crime" craziness, he expanded and cemented the policies that still haunt us today. When I see Hillary coming out against the simplest reform like sentencing parity in cocaine cases, I don't have much hope that a new Clinton administration would offer a more sensible approach. And her vote on reforming the Patriot Act excesses does nothing to assuage my concerns on this score.

Hilzoy sums it up well.
Civil liberties matter immensely under any circumstances. But now, when our Constitution has been under assault for years, they matter more than ever. Having a President who is committed both to civil liberties and to making the best political case he can for them, and who also understands the Constitution well enough to teach it at an excellent law school, would do a lot to repair the damage our system of government has suffered over the last eight years.
It's a good point. Neither candidate is perfect, but on this crucial issue, it's clear that Obama has the better record.

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