Clinton: Obama Not Barbaric Enough
In the heated campaigning between Iowa and New Hampshire, the Clinton campaign has started to up the attacks on Barack Obama’s record. One of the more recent is the Clinton campaign’s complaint that Obama favors defendant’s rights and opposes mandatory minimums.
Hillary’s aides point to Obama’s extremely progressive record as a community organizer, state senator and candidate for Congress, his alliances with “left-wing” intellectuals in Chicago’s Hyde Park community, and his liberal voting record on criminal defendants’ rights as subjects for examination.
Along the same lines, ABC reported that Clinton aides gave the network various examples, of Obama’s controversial stands. The aides cited Obama’s past assertion that he would support ending mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes, pointing to a 2004 statement at an NAACP-sponsored debate: “Mandatory minimums take too much discretion away from judges.”
As Radley Balko rightly points out in response to the Clinton campaign:
To me, those both sound like pretty good reasons to support Obama. Is there a single issue where Hillary Clinton doesn’t support giving more power to the government? Abortion, I guess. But any others?
Indeed. One thing that has impressed me as I’ve read more about Obama’s record is that he’s been fairly consistent in working to reform the Justice system in favor of common citizens over the demands of prosecutors and politicians who want to sound “tough.” As Charles Peters points out, this was consistent even in Obama’s days as a state legislator:
Consider a bill into which Obama clearly put his heart and soul. The problem he wanted to address was that too many confessions, rather than being voluntary, were coerced — by beating the daylights out of the accused.
Obama proposed requiring that interrogations and confessions be videotaped.
This seemed likely to stop the beatings, but the bill itself aroused immediate opposition. There were Republicans who were automatically tough on crime and Democrats who feared being thought soft on crime. There were death penalty abolitionists, some of whom worried that Obama’s bill, by preventing the execution of innocents, would deprive them of their best argument. Vigorous opposition came from the police, too many of whom had become accustomed to using muscle to “solve” crimes. And the incoming governor, Rod Blagojevich, announced that he was against it.
The police proved to be Obama’s toughest opponent. Legislators tend to quail when cops say things like, “This means we won’t be able to protect your children.” The police tried to limit the videotaping to confessions, but Obama, knowing that the beatings were most likely to occur during questioning, fought — successfully — to keep interrogations included in the required videotaping.
By showing officers that he shared many of their concerns, even going so far as to help pass other legislation they wanted, he was able to quiet the fears of many.
Obama proved persuasive enough that the bill passed both houses of the legislature, the Senate by an incredible 35 to 0. Then he talked Blagojevich into signing the bill, making Illinois the first state to require such videotaping.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot about Obama’s policy stances that I don’t agree with. However, it is rare to find a politician with the courage to stand up for the rights of the accused against the “tough on crime” rhetoric that pervades the political landscape. Frankly, I admire it a great deal and wish that there were more politicians out there with his guts. It’s easy to pander to the lowest common denominator of fear (I’m looking at you, Rudy Giuliani). It’s a lot harder to point out that the punitive, “lock ’em up and throw away the key” attitude that dominates American policy is, in fact, ineffective and immoral.