Sunday, March 2, 2008

Barack Obama, Civil Libertarian

For a few weeks now I've referred to Barack Obama as being the most libertarian candidate remaining in the race (Ron Paul specifically included).

Now Jeffrey Rosen at the New York Times has caught on to the reasons why:

Mr. Obama made his name in the Illinois Legislature by championing historic civil liberties reforms, like the mandatory recording of all interrogations and confessions in capital cases. Although prosecutors, the police, the Democratic governor and even some death penalty advocates were initially opposed to the bill, Mr. Obama won them over. The reform passed unanimously, and it has been adopted by four other states and the District of Columbia.

In the Senate, Mr. Obama distinguished himself by making civil liberties one of his legislative priorities. He co-sponsored a bipartisan reform bill that would have cured the worst excesses of the Patriot Act by meaningfully tightening the standards for warrantless surveillance. Once again, he helped encourage a coalition of civil-libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives. The effort failed when Hillary Clinton joined 13 other Democrats in supporting a Republican motion to cut off debate on amendments to the Patriot Act.

That wasn’t the first time Mrs. Clinton tacked to the center in a civil-liberties debate. In 2005, she co-sponsored a bill that would have made it a federal crime to intimidate someone by burning a flag, even though the Supreme Court had struck down similar laws in the past. (Mr. Obama supported a narrower bill that would have satisfied the Constitution.) And Mrs. Clinton opposed a moderate proposal by the United States Sentencing Commission that would have retroactively reduced the draconian penalties for possession of crack cocaine — a proposal supported by Mr. Obama, and by liberal as well as conservative judges.

. . .

But Mrs. Clinton’s approach to the subject is that of a top-down progressive. Her speeches about privacy suggest that she has boundless faith in the power of experts, judges and ultimately herself to strike the correct balance between privacy and security.

. . .

Mr. Obama, by contrast, is not a knee-jerk believer in the old-fashioned liberal view that courts should unilaterally impose civil liberties protections on unwilling majorities. His formative experiences have involved arguing for civil liberties in the legislatures rather than courts, and winning over skeptics on both sides of the political spectrum, as he won over the police and prosecutors in Chicago.

There's also the fact that, despite supporting gun registration and ridiculous gun-lock laws while a state senator in Illinois, Obama has said that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right- which means, if he is to be believed, that there is a line on guns he will not cross. The Los Angeles Times reminds us of one example in the US Senate, the Vitter Amendment, which would ban emergency responders during a Katrina-like event from using their powers to confiscate firearms. Obama voted for the amendment; Clinton, in favor.

There's a lot about Obama that can be disliked by hard-core anarchist, purist big-L Libertarians... but those same people drool over Ron Paul, who wants to amend the Constitution to remove birthright citizenship and strip immigrants of all rights under the Constitution. Compared to Ron Paul, who is less a libertarian than a reactionary, conspiracy-believing 1950s-era conservative, Barack Obama is the standard-bearer for individual freedom.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

they had to dig pretty deep to find a case where Obama and gun rights appear in the same context! If you look at the record, both Democrats have a history of casting anti firearms votes whenever possible.