22 September, 2008

The Candidates and Civil Liberties - The Final Grades

This is the thirty-fourth and final post in my series regarding the major Presidential candidates and their views on civil liberties. This is the most comprehensive investigation into these issues available on the web. This is not hubris or arrogance talking. I have literally combed through hundreds of speeches, thousands of newspaper articles, and thousands of internet resources to get this information. If there was anything better, or even anywhere nearly as good, I would've found it.

As I said in my original post in this series:

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.

Of course, Glenn Reynolds was kidding about the endorsement, and I was pretty sure he was, but it still piqued my curiosity. I wanted to find out which candidate really is "better" from a Libertarian perspective.

In the process I've learned much that I didn't know about both Obama and McCain. Some of what I learned about each was good, and some was bad. I've also learned how little I remember from my high school civics classes, and definitely have received a crash course in the U.S. Constitution and it's Amendments. Finally, I've learned that I'm not nearly as close to being a libertarian as I thought. There were many things I came up with that I tried to grade from a libertarian perspective, but that perspective was totally the opposite of my own.

It's taken me over two months to comb through all this information and write up my findings. I could write a book on this subject now. Some might say that I have already. :)

It's worth pointing out that I'm not a Constitutional lawyer, or a lawyer of any kind. Nor am I an economist. I have tried to look at things from a layman's perspective, and if I have misinterpreted any concept or any candidate's position on that concept, the fault is entirely mine.

So, where do the candidates stand?

Here are the individual results.

Obama McCain
First Amendment F D-
Second Amendment D- C-
Third Amendment B B
Fourth Amendment D+ D+
Fifth Amendment D+ B-
Sixth Amendment B B
Seventh Amendment C C
Eighth Amendment C B
Eleventh Amendment B+ B-
Thirteenth Amendment D+ B+
Fourteenth Amendment D+ C+
Fifteenth Amendment B B
Nineteenth Amendment B B
Twenty-First Amendment A- A-
Twenty-Third Amendment A- B
Twenty-Fourth Amendment B B
Twenty-Sixth Amendment B B
Taxes D B-
Abortion A+ D
National ID F F
Voter ID A+ F
Card Check F A+
Legalization of Drugs D+ F
Gay Rights A- D
Hate Crime Legislation F C
Growth of Government F A-
Property Rights B- A
Sovereign Rights C- B-
Ninth Amendment B- B
Tenth Amendment F D-

Now, before I can assign final grades, I need to discuss weightings. While each and every one of these rights are important, I doubt many people would weight "Card Check" the same as the First Amendment. So, I needed to come up with a way of "fairly" weight each an every grade.

Here's where we get to the most subjective part of this process. While I've tried to be as objective as possible while assigning grades, certainly the way I weight the individual items might be far different than how you would. I have a solution to that problem, which I'll discuss later.

The first thing I did was break the items up into groups. Here are the groups I ended up with.

Right Group Name
First Amendment Freedom of Speech
Second Amendment Guns
Third-Eighth Amendments "Other" Protected Rights (BoR)
Ninth-Tenth Amendments "Catch All" Protected Rights (BoR)
Eleventh, Twenty-First, Twenty-Third Amendment "Other" Amended Rights
Thirteenth-Fourteenth Amendments Abolition of Slavery
Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, Twenty-Sixth Amendments Voting Rights
Taxes Taxes
Abortion, National ID, Voter ID, Card Check, Legalization of Drugs, Gay Rights, Hate Crime Legislation, Property Rights, Sovereign Rights "Other" Non-Amended Rights
Small Government Small Government

Once I had the groups, then I needed to assign weights to each group. Here's what I came up with.

Group Name Weighting
Freedom of Speech 3
Guns 3
"Other" Protected Rights (BoR) 2
"Catch All" Protected Rights (BoR) 2
"Other" Amended Rights 1
Abolition of Slavery 3
Voting Rights 2
Taxes 1
"Other" Non-Amended Rights 1
Small Government 1

So, the three most important things to me are Freedom of Speech, Guns, and Abolition of Slavery, each with weight 3. Right behind them are Voting Rights, The "Catch All" Protected Bill of Rights (9th-10th amendments) and the "Other" protected rights from the Bill of Rights, which have weight 2. The rest of the items each have a weighting of 1.

You may not agree with these weightings. I don't expect you to, frankly. I didn't "cook the books" though. These are the weightings I came up with before I ever started working on this series.

There's one final piece to the puzzle. I had to assign a numeric value to the letter grades, so I that I could do the necessary averaging. I used percentages and the numbers are below. I assigned a low end and a high end for each grade value, and the midpoint value is a calculated average of the low and high. For F, I artificially set the midpoint to 50. This was a decision I made which I admit is entirely subjective. What should an F be? 0? 59? 29.5 (midpoint of 0-59)? You can make arguments for any of these values. I chose 50 because I wanted to separate it quite clearly from D-, but not give too much of a penalty for one. This value is completely arbitrary and I admit it.

Grade Low End High End Midpoint Value
A+ 98 100 99
A 93 97 95
A- 90 92 91
B+ 87 89 88
B 83 86 84.5
B- 80 82 81
C+ 77 79 78
C 73 76 74.5
C- 70 72 71
D+ 67 69 68
D 63 66 64.5
D- 60 62 61
F 50 50 50

Note that setting the low and high end for F to 50 does not mean that 50 is the only legal value for F. Anything sub-60 is an F.

Enough on process. I'm sure you're all on pins-and-needles wondering what the final grades came out to be.

Well, here they are (scores in parentheses).

Obama: D+ (67)

McCain: C (76)

Advantage: McCain. (Note that I commented previously that McCain's First Amendment grade now appears to me to be too low. Raising it to a D+ raises his score by one point to a 77, which is a C+ rather than a C.)

As I mentioned earlier, there's a high degree of subjectivity in how the final grades are calculated. And, while I believe that I was fairly objective in the individual scores, you may disagree with one or more of those as well. I wanted to make it possible for you to adjust individual scores to your beliefs and the weightings as well to give your own final grades.

To that end, I have created a spreadsheet that has all my calculations and uploaded it here. You can download it and adjust the grades and weightings to your pleasure. Enjoy. I created the spreadsheet in Excel 2007, but saved it in the 97-2003 format. I have tested it in OpenCalc 2.4 as well. Cells that are highlighted are calculated values. Don't change those.

I have one final note. I've been asked several times about third party candidates. Let me be blunt. It took an enormous amount of my time to track down all this information on the two major candidates. I don't have the time to do every single candidate out there. In addition, the amount of information available for the third party candidates is orders of magnitude less. So, in my opinion, such an exercise for a candidate or candidates that have no chance of winning would be a complete waste of my time. If someone else wants to do the research work, I'll be happy to add their findings, but I'm not about to put any more work into this than I already have.


  1. This will take me some time to think about commenting on, as you have a lot of information here, and of course admit that there is a great deal of subjectivity here and this is no way way some sort of official study. Still, it will probably bear some comment at least! I'll send a link over here in the comments section of the latest post on Around the Keg posted earlier today by Bob, one of my regular contributors (like I'm some sorta high-falootin' blog...).

    Mostly, I just wanted to stop by and thank you for stopping by my blog the other day on steves' post. Can I add you to the Around the Keg blogroll?

  2. Yes, please ad me and thank you. I will do the same.

    I do stand by my research. I don't believe I'm missing anything of significance on the individual topics (although if I am I'd be glad to find out and will update).

    However, it's perfectly reasonable to disagree with the conclusions I reached. I would be surprised if anyone agreed with all of my conclusions.

    And I was glad to comment, and will definitely do so again in the future

  3. Like Smitty, I want to take some time to mull through the list.

  4. You're on my blogroll, Chris, under "From the Middle of the Keg to the Right." I didn't think you'd want "To the Left of the Keg" and I don't know you well enough yet to promote you to "Beer Buddies!"