Obama vs. McCain 2008: Round 5: Freedom

This is the fifth of a weekly series of public forums on TMB. Watch for a new round every Monday. The schedule and comment policy are available here.

In keeping with Independence Day, the topic for this week’s forum is Freedom.

There are several potential topics that I’ve intended to be covered here:

  • Gun rights (McCain and Obama have typical conservative and liberal views, as far as I know)
  • Other Bill of Rights concerns
  • Warrantless wiretapping (which both Obama and McCain are in support of)
  • Other issues concerning civil liberties in a time of war (such as Guantanamo Bay)
  • Supreme Court appointments (typical conservative and liberal views, once again — keep in mind that there will be a forum on abortion in two weeks)
  • Death penalty (Obama spoke in support of the possibility of the death penalty for certain non-murder “heinous crimes” such as particularly vile rapes of children)
  • Topics related to LDS conceptions of human agency
  • Other issues?

Other than that, I’ll leave things pretty open-ended. Feel free to express your thoughts. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions (e.g., “What is Obama’s position on gun control, anyway?”).

Hope everyone has an enjoyable, safe, and patriotic holiday with their loved ones…

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12 Responses

  1. Does anyone have anything to say about Supreme Court nominations? McCain said he would appoint judges like Bush’s conservative appointees of Roberts and Alito. Obama said he would appoint liberal judges like Breyer, Ginsburg, and Souter. A nice L.A. Times article points out the ramifications of these two different visions of the Supreme Court.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the two oldest judges are liberal ones: Stevens is 88 and Ginsburg is 75. So, if McCain is elected, we will almost certainly see Stevens resign or die within McCain’s 4 or 8 years in office, and he will almost certainly be replaced by a very conservative judge (depending on how much of a majority the Democrats will have in the Senate and how hard they are willing to fight). This would make the court a truly conservative court — right now it is 4-4 with one swinger. This could have enormous ramifications for something like the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

    On the other hand, I don’t think there’s much room to worry about the Court getting more liberal during an Obama presidency. But a replacement of old liberal judges with young liberal judges certainly will keep the court from turning conservative any time soon.

    So, if the most important thing in the world for you is to overturn Roe v. Wade, then McCain is your man. But I’ll talk more on why I think this is a problematic view during the abortion forum (in two weeks).

    As far as I’m concerned, I like the fact that our Court is divided and I worry very much about a really conservative Supreme Court. I also worry about a really liberal Court.

    By the way, here’s an interesting passage from the L.A. Times article, regarding Obama’s and McCain’s views on judicial activism, in relation to American freedoms:

    “Both a [conservative Justice Antonin] Scalia and a Ginsburg will arrive at the same place most of the time,” [Obama] said during the Roberts confirmation hearings. “What matters at the Supreme Court is those 5% of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction will only get you through 25 miles of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy.

    “In those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart.”

    In a speech this month, McCain derisively quoted Obama’s reference to a judge’s “deepest values” and “empathy.” “These vague words attempt to justify judicial activism. Come to think, they sound like an activist judge wrote them,” McCain said.

    Many conservatives praised McCain’s focus on a limited role for the courts.

    “Much as I like and respect Barack, I think his vision of judging couldn’t be more wrong,” said Bradford Berenson, a Washington lawyer who worked in the current Bush White House and knew Obama at Harvard Law School. “Whereas McCain wants our judges and Supreme Court justices to be faithful to the Constitution . . . and decide cases according to law, Barack seems to think judges should systematically favor certain parties or groups and decide cases according to their personal sympathies or feelings about how who needs or deserves help.”

    Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe, who is an advisor to Obama, said McCain’s speech “relied on simplistic and misleading slogans about judicial activism.”

    “Sen. Obama certainly doesn’t share Sen. McCain’s remarkable view that the greatest threat to American values and traditions comes from our independent federal judiciary,” Tribe said. “On the contrary, Sen. Obama would find it crucial to preserve judicial independence in part to hold in check the excesses of unilateral executive power that have threatened our democracy under the Bush-Cheney administration.”

  2. Perhaps I’m naive, but I really don’t understand what conservatives mean by judicial activism. I think if gay marriage went to the Supreme Court and were approved, conservatives would applaud – but that would just as activist as Roe v. Wade. I think what conservatives want, like liberals, is activist judges when it comes to their values, and “constructionists” when it comes to the other side’s values.

    On the topic of McCain and freedom: I appreciate his views on torture and his old views on Guantanamo (he wanted it closed). However, I’m afraid that the Right is pushing him to become more right wing on this issue. Other than that, I really don’t see the two candidates as being very different on the topic of freedom.

  3. Ryan,

    I may be naive as well, but I think you’re exactly right concerning conservatives and the Court. I agree with Obama that judicial activism is unavoidable; conservatives simply want to call what they are doing “objective” readings of the Constitution (Roberts did this during the Q & A at BYU last year, so I hear). If this is the case, then it’s an awful coincidence that the conservative judges almost always vote as a group (at least for the difficult cases that really matter).

    To say that one’s personal values don’t come into play when interpreting the Constitution is very naive. It’s not that transparent of a document.

  4. The poll that I started last end of May as to who the LDS will be voting this November at http://jbsolis.blogspot.com is very surprising, as Obama leads almost half against Mccain. This poll will run till november, so LDS, are we voting Democrat this election?

    It is nice that you are making this a part of a crusade to educate or inform people about the candidates stand on the issues.

  5. Mr. Thoughtskoto:

    Your poll probably simply reflects the fact that there is much more of a pro-Obama presence online, especially among LDS bloggers. I’m not sure about LDS outside of Utah, but based on recent Utah polls, McCain is certain to win soundly, although Obama is expected to pick up the highest percentage for a Democratic presidential candidate in Utah in a long time.

    See my post Mormons for McCain? for more on this.

  6. Ryan and Dennis,

    You’ve both expressed what I have been thinking over the last couple of months. A judge who agrees with you is simply upholding the only logical reading of the constitution and one who disagrees with you is an “activist judge” trying to bring the constitution into line with their own views. It was almost laughable when after the California Supreme Court ruled Proposition 22 unconstitutional, the court’s decision was attack by some as case of activist judges overturning the will of the people, this when 6 of the 7 justices were Republican appointees. I’ve seen similar things occur with the U.S. Supreme Court in the last couple of weeks, where some have condemned the judges as “activists” one week when they extend the rights of habeus corpus to Guantanamo detainees and then the next week praise the same judges in the striking of the DC gun law as maintaining the spirit and letter of the constitution. Both candidates seem to be playing to their bases right now, but Obama seems like he has been more consistent and nuanced on this issue (likely because, as has been mentioned elsewhere, McCain is playing to somewhat of a new base right now that is to the right of his originally more centrist position). Though as a member of Obama’s base I admit that I am probably biased.

    This is sort of a difficult topic to respond to beyond the question of SC appointments. I think those on both sides who would claim that their freedoms would be thrown under the bus with one or the other as president are rather ridiculous. As much as I may disagree with many of McCain’s positions on the issues, I don’t honestly think that constitutional rights would be in great jeopardy if he were elected. I appreciate Obama’s positions on these issues of freedom and civil liberties (though I wish he were a little stronger on warrantless wiretapping), but ultimately they aren’t the main reason I will be voting for him.

  7. This is a side note, but I think often about the way political cleavages have developed in the United States. Our political culture is in large measure a product of our two-party system, which is a product of our majoritarian electoral institutions (some great word on this stuff by Arend Lijphart). Even the way we think about politics is heavily influenced by the two-party system; Republicans are likely to form their views to the views of the party rather than choosing which party to side with on each issue based on their own thought (same goes for Democrats).

    What I find fascinating is that Britain has a mostly two-party system as well (again, majoritarian institutions), and for a lot of issues, the parties have evolved similar to the US parties. The Tories are much like the Republicans and Labour is much like the Dems. However, they are different on crucial issues (poverty, environment, etc.) The most interesting of these is, I think, civil liberties regarding terrorism. In America, it seems that the GOP is more likely to restrict civil liberties – wiretapping legislation, etc etc. But Britain just recently had this issue come up, and Labour took the Republican view while the Tories took the Democrat view. Complete opposite. Imagine if some of our American politicians were in Britain; would their views still be the same, or would they reflect their respective parties? What about each of us personally – how would our views about civil liberties be different under a different party system?

    Ok, so now it’s obvious that I’m a huge poli sci nerd. But its just a thought.

    The refreshing thing about this election is, I think, that both candidates seem to differ from their parties on this issue.

  8. Ryan, you should check out a book called The Big Sort. I’m reading it right now, and the author is Bill Bishop. Talks a lot about how people are segregating themselves by political ideologies, but how for example a Republican surrounded by Democrats has different views from a Republican surrounded by other Republicans. Really interesting stuff.

  9. Ryan and Rutkowski:

    I should post sometime about my views on the psychology of political affiliation and beliefs. Bottom line: A person’s political affiliation and beliefs are not logically formed. Rather, they are MADE logical after their establishment.

  10. For anyone who is interested, Obama just released a statement on his support for the FISA bill. It can be read here:


    I continue to be impressed with his willingness to engage and even encourage those whose views differ from his own.

  11. Our founding fathers knew that a perpetual state of war is inherently dangerous to democracy and civil liberties. James Madison wrote: “Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.” Our current foreign policy is dangerously aggressive and imperialistic. We have a choice of being a republic on an empire. It is obvious that McCain is more likely to continue the interventionist Bush foreign policy, while Obama gives indications that he will be less interventionist. The ultimate effect on our civil liberties stemming from this difference is incalculably large.

  12. […] McCain: Round 7: AbortionWhy More of Us Should Walk to ChurchObama vs. McCain 2008: Round 6: EconomyObama vs. McCain 2008: Round 5: FreedomPew Forum Question Does Violence to Mormon BeliefMormons for McCain — Where Are You?Obama vs. […]

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