09 July, 2008

The Candidates and The First Amendment

Earlier this week, I read in a couple places that Libertarians support Barack Obama (D-IL) over John McCain (R-AZ) for President by a pretty hefty margin (53% to 38%). And while I question the validity of this poll for several reasons, at least one well-known Libertarian mulls an Obama endorsement.

So, I thought it'd be fun to look at where the candidates stand on the Bill of Rights. Actually, I may extend that and look at other rights guaranteed (note, not "granted", when will our press get that right?) by further Amendments and the Supreme Court.

That seems like a good way to look at things from a Libertarian perspective. Libertarians are all about personal rights, right? I mean, that's the reason the name comes from "liberty".

So, conveniently there's a website about defending our First Amendment rights. It's called First Amendment Center.

Let's quote the First Amendment as a refresher, before we start:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Next, let's look at Mr. Obama. From the First Amendment Center:

In his 11 years in government service as a member of the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate, Barack Obama has taken varied stances on issues related to the First Amendment.

The article says that Obama has done well regarding improving government transparency, and has been "outspoken in supporting the expression of religious beliefs by public officials". He's also been strong in support of "separation of church and state", so the article gives Obama high marks here.

Lower marks for Obama occur in the area of "campaign-finance, petition and cultural-expression issues". One of the few bills actually drafted by Obama is the Curtailing Lobbyist Effectiveness through Advance Notificatin, Updates, and Posting Act in 2006. This bill strove to limit the effectiveness of lobbyists. However, lobbying is a form of the right to petition. This bill died in Committee.

He has worked to limit campaign financing from lobbyists and said that "his administration would prohibit past political appointees from lobbying the executive branch during his term". Once again, he is trying to limit people's ability to petition the government.

Other items of note are listed later in the article. He was critical of a "Choose Life" license place while a state senator in Illinois. He has complained about violent lyrics in rap music and advocated more indecency regulation of broadcasters. He threatened legal action against Lindsay Ashford, self-professed pedofile, who posted on his website to the "cuteness" of Obama's children.

And, from my own research, Obama supported the firing of Don Imus over his controversial radio show comments. But not a peep from him until forced to regarding the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

He also supports strengthening "hate crime laws". To me, this is positively frightening, because hate crime legislation is the start down the road to the "thought police".

He claims to oppose the "Fairness Doctrine". Thank God. This puts him in opposition to his party though, so I question what he would do if President and a Democratic controlled Congress enacted Fairness Doctrine legislation.

So, that's Obama. Now let's look at John McCain.

The money quote:

I would rather have a clean government than one where quote 'First Amendment rights' are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I’d rather have the clean government.

Ouch. From a First Amendment supporters standpoint, it doesn't get much worse.

Obviously he's one of the men behind the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (usually known as McCain-Feingold). This bill stomped all over the First Amendment.

Another quote from McCain while discussing the bill:

Some will argue that the First Amendment of the Constitution renders unlawful any restrictions on the right of anyone to raise unlimited amounts of money for political campaigns. Mr. President, which drafter of the Constitution believed or anticipated that the First Amendment would be exercised in political campaigns by the relatively few at the expense of the many?

Due to McCain-Feingold, we've seen a huge increase in so-called "527s". These groups participate in the election process by usually promoting issues and telling you where the candidates stand on them. Since they don't directly advocate either candidate, they avoid regulation by the FCC under McCain-Feingold. McCain has introduced legislation to cut off the growth of these groups.

He introduced the Children's Internet Protection Act, which required public schools and libraries "to install filtering software on computers to block access to material that is obscene or deemed harmful to minors". He's done much to restrict broadcasters.

The article also mentions that he's been a supporter of a flag-desecration amendment toe the Constitution. While this proposed Amendment would limit your First Amendment rights, I personally have less of a problem with this one because he's working to do this the right way, through an Amendment, not congressional legislation or judicial fiat.

He's been a strong supporter of religious freedom, has made repeated statements that a candidate for President's religious views should not be an issue.

Doing a bit of research, it's hard to find any articles on the net related to John McCain and the First Amendment that are positive.

So, then, to the grades. I don't think Libertarians would be pleased with either, frankly.

Obama: C-

McCain: D- And many would say I'm being charitable with McCain.

The sad thing about both though is that they're both interested in "campaign finance reform", and are interested in going about it in a way that clearly limits free speech. Barack Obama was not in the Senate in 2002 to vote on McCain-Feingold, but I think it's clear from his other statements that he would've voted for it. They're also very similar in their views on limits of freedom to broadcasters.

To be honest, I think Obama's grade is higher merely due to the brevity of his political career. There's little in his statements that make me think that he's a real supporter of free speech.

First Amendment: Advantage Obama.

UPDATE: Obama's First Amendment grade lowered to D- as documented in this post.

UPDATE: Obama's First Amendment grade lowered to F as documented in this post.

Results so far:

Obama McCain
First Amendment F D-

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