Early last year, I wrote a blog post explaining why I would never vote for Rand Paul. I also stated that while I would prefer Hillary Clinton not be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, I would absolutely vote for her over Rand Paul due to Paul’s racism and homophobia. I stand by this position, and it applies to all of the other Republican frontrunners. We also now know that Paul has a strong sexist streak, as evidenced by his suggestion that middle-aged women are unfit to lead the country “with all those hormones.” However, as I made clear in a blog post in 2013, “Hillary Clinton: Candidate of Last Resort,” I would much prefer that the Democratic Party nominate someone else for president. This isn’t an attitude I revel in having. I would love to see the first female president, an occurrence very long overdue, but I cannot let this desire trump concerns over a candidate’s mediocre policy. Now to be clear, Clinton isn’t my dead last choice–Jim Webb would be bad enough to make me vote third party–but I consider her to be one of the worst choices out of the people being talked about as the party nominee. In this blog post, I am going to look at five of the issues that showcase why, from a civil libertarian standpoint, the Democratic Party could do a lot better.
1. Gay Rights: Hillary Clinton is better on gay rights than any Republican presidential candidate who has a strong chance of getting the nomination in 2016. However, she is behind the curve compared to the Democratic Party as a whole. As late as 2007, she was supporting Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act, while Barack Obama said he wanted the entire bill repealed despite publicly opposing gay marriage at the time. Obama and Biden also risked reelection by coming out in support of marriage equality in 2012, while Clinton waited until after the election when it was clear a pro-gay marriage candidate could win. In addition, President Obama said last year that he favored a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states, while Clinton favored leaving the issue to the states until just this month. Also bear in mind that among other potential nominees, Martin O’Malley has supported marriage equality since 2011, and Lincoln Chafee and Bernie Sanders since at least 2009. (Additionally, Sanders voted against DOMA.)
2. Government Surveillance: As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has gotten some criticism for the NSA’s spying program. However, her policy shortcomings in the area of government surveillance go much farther back. In 2006, she voted to re authorize the Patriot Act. It is vital to remember that in 2001, every Senator except Russ Feingold voted for the Patriot Act, but by 2006, the post 9/11 surge of trust in the government had cratered, and some other Democratic Senators were strongly resisting George W. Bush on surveillance. Nine Senate Democrats voted against the USA Patriot Act Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005; Clinton was not one of them.
3. War on Drugs: Clinton has consistently refused to endorse an end to the War on Drugs. A few months ago, an article by Tom Dickinson in Rolling Stone suggested that Rand Paul is actually to the Left of her on drug policy. Aside from the obvious overreach of government power that the War on Drugs entails, the arguable difference between Paul and Clinton represents a distinct problem from a pragmatic standpoint. It could cause liberals who oppose the War on Drugs to consider voting for Paul if he is nominated by the Republicans, and Clinton is nominated by the Democrats. Ron Paul got support from a significant minority of liberals in the 2008 presidential primaries based partly on his opposition to the War on Drugs and likely would have split the liberal vote had he been nominated against Obama. If Democrats have to lose in 2016, do they really want it to be because their party nominee was arguably more conservative on the Drug War than the Republican nominee?
4. Free speech: To her credit, Clinton voted against a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration, an amendment which would have brought the country to the verge of a police State. However, she also cosponsored the Flag Protection Act of 2005. While the bill would not have outright banned flag desecration, it would have stipulated that, “Any person who destroys or damages a flag of the United States with intent to provoke imminent violence or a breach of the peace, and in circumstances reasonably likely to produce imminent violence or a breach of the peace, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.” The problem is that neither Clinton nor her cosponsor, Senator Robert Bennett, saw fit to define what constituted an attempt at inciting violence. This would have necessarily been left to judges, juries, and district attorneys, and it is not far fetched to imagine many of them using the law to punish people ostensibly for intending to incite violence but really for the act of desecration itself. And since any act of flag desecration is likely to result in violence by angry bystanders against the person doing the desecrating, Clinton’s proposed law was particularly ripe for abuse. Additionally, she introduced a law to ban businesses from selling or renting video games rated “Mature,” “Adults Only,” or “Ratings Pending” to children under 17. I play video games very rarely and am just as against thirteen year olds playing Grand Theft Auto as the next person. But isn’t this a matter best left between children, their parents, and video game store proprietors?
5. Death penalty: If you think capital punishment is bad policy, you may want to find another candidate. According to the New York Times, when Clinton was attempting to get elected as a Senator, “she went out of her way to note her support for the death penalty.” In the 2008 Democratic primaries, she did not disavow her previous support for government executions.
In conclusion, while Clinton would be preferable to any of the major Republican candidates for president, her civil liberties record leaves much to be desired. In fact, as a member of the ACLU, I would venture to say that it makes about as much sense for a fellow ACLU member to vote for Clinton in the primaries as it would for an NRA member to vote for her in the primaries.