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The Candidate For Civil Liberties

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I don’t agree with every particular of the argument — it’s a little problematic to tie Hillary Clinton too strongly with her husband’s administration (granting that much of the tying has been done by the Clinton itself), and it’s really time to stop citing Kathleen Willey as a credible witness — but overall Rosen convincingly makes the case that Obama has a significantly better record on civil liberties:

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.

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.

The expanded executive powers claimed by the Bush administration makes this issue important, and I don’t see a good argument that Clinton is better on civil liberties.

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