the first civil libertarian president? February 20, 2008Posted by KG in 2008 Elections, op-ed, politics.
Tags: aclu, barack obama, civil libertarian, civil liberties, john mccain, libertarian, safe act
If Barack Obama were to win the Democratic nomination and the White House, he would be, among other things, our first civil libertarian president. This is clear not just from his lifetime rating on the ACLU’s scorecard (82 percent compared to John McCain’s 25 percent). It is clear from the fact that civil liberties have been among his most passionate interests – as a constitutional law professor, state legislator, and senator. On the campaign trail, he has been unapologetic about these enthusiasms.
After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1991, Obama went to work for a civil rights firm in Chicago, where he represented whistleblowers, community organizers, and black voters challenging discriminatory ward boundaries. During the same period, he developed an approach to constitutional law – which he was teaching at the University of Chicago – that has proved especially relevant to civil liberties debates. The Constitution, he wrote in The Audacity of Hope, “forc[es] us into a conversation, a ‘deliberative democracy,’ in which all citizens are requirred to engage in a process of testing their ideas against an external reality, persuading others of their point of view, and building shifting alliances of consent.” Discussions about civil liberties require this kind of conversation because they attract an unusual coalition of liberals and conservatives under one umbrella.
Obama’s approach in the U.S. Senate was similar. He became a co-sponsor of the SAFE Act, the bipartisan reforms that would have corrected the worst excesses of the Patriot Act, and encouraged the coalition of civil libertarian liberals and libertarian conservatives who supported it, from the ACLU to the American Conservative Union.