The Candidates and Civil Rights
For this installment of my series of essays centered on the presidential candidates and where they stand on the important issues, the concept of civil rights is being addressed. This country once prided herself on leading the charge of freedom, shedding the trappings of the tyranny and intolerance we once sought to escape. Since then, we’ve undergone more than one revolution to do things like end slavery, allow women to vote, and integrate our society. Still, we have a Puritanical streak, and our attitudes towards certain taboos and hot button topics may help us foresee where the next social revolution will come from.
This is the one time I will allow myself to talk about the fact that Barack Obama is a black man, whereas McCain is an old white guy, because it should be acknowledged that having a black man this close to the white house is a momentous occasion—evidence of the growing tolerance of this nation and the victories of the legitimate civil rights movement—that can certainly be celebrated. It’s even highly likely that McCain chose a female running mate to try to take some of that thunder.
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However, I want to propose another controversial idea: perhaps we should focus on the content of the candidate’s character rather than the color of his skin. While I’m absolutely certain a large segment of society will vote for their candidate—be it McCain or Obama—on the sole basis of skin color, I refuse to even consider it as criteria. It will not influence my vote, and I don’t believe it should influence yours either.
What should influence our votes, though, is how the candidates treat the subject of civil rights. It is as important today as it was when this country was founded, as we continue to combat bigotry, irrational hatred, racism, and intolerance. People in this country are promised life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness, and ensuring that everyone gets what they are entitled to requires constant vigilance.
Abortion is not a black-and-white issue, no matter what anybody tries to tell you. Those of the extreme pro-life persuasion will try to tell you that nobody under any circumstances can do anything that will lead to a medically aborted pregnancy, even during the first month. Extreme pro-choice advocates will tell you that the government has no right to regulate even abortions performed in the ninth month or to restrict children from crossing state lines without parental permission to get an abortion. Most of us realize that these two hard-line stances are illogical, so my biggest hope for a candidate in this arena is a moderate, one who leans towards the pro-choice side of the argument without falling over.
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John McCain is proud of the fact that he is a hard-line pro-lifer. He supports repealing Roe v. Wade (though, in 1999, he said he did not), defining an unborn child as a “person” under federal law, maintaining the ban on military base abortions, banning human cloning, prohibiting minors from crossing state lines for the sake of abortions, encouraging adoption, banning partial-birth abortions, and prohibiting the government from funding abortions or organizations that perform them. He also voted against spending $100 million to reduce teenage pregnancy through education and the availability of contraceptives—despite overwhelming evidence that “abstinence-only” programs consistently fail—and that will no doubt be a large part of the remaining election season as a result of his running mate’s pregnant teenage daughter. However, McCain does support expanding stem-cell research, as well as abortions for victims of rape or incest.
Barack Obama supports state restrictions on late-term partial-birth abortions (though he voted against a ban on them in Illinois and has consistently stated that even partial-birth abortions are a matter of choice for women), teaching teenagers about contraception as well as abstinence, and safeguarding the rights of women under Roe v. Wade. He voted against defining an unborn child as a “person” under federal law, against prohibiting minors from crossing state lines to procure abortions, against notifying the parents of out-of-state minors who get abortions, for expanding stem-cell research, and for using government funds to ensure access to contraceptives for minors.
I wouldn’t call either man a moderate. Though they both talk about how they’re going to try to bridge the gap and find common ground between pro-choicers and pro-lifers, it’s all just empty promises given their voting record and public statements on the matter. McCain is clearly sticking to the Puritanical with his insistence that the government should be allowed to dictate the morality of abortion by defining a fetus as a person. Obama, on the other hand, is clearly going too far by refusing to allow abortion clinics to even notify the parents of minors who have crossed state lines for the sake of an abortion. Though I do consider myself pro-choice, I am not happy with Obama’s stance on things like partial-birth abortion (a practice that is beyond barbaric), his misunderstanding of Roe v. Wade, and his reluctance to let parents have a say over whether or not their children—minors—should have an abortion. Still, Obama gets in right in expanding the scope of sex education and recognizing the rights of women to make their own difficult moral choices. Therefore, this round goes to Barack Obama.
The subject of gun control has been covered on this site before, but my basic opinion on the matter goes something like this: (1) The Second Amendment is no less important than the First; (2) Owning a gun is a basic human right, and any government that attempts to take guns out of the hands of its citizenry is a tyrannical one; (3) Gun-free zones are a failed experiment, given the high incidence of gun violence in gun-free zones like schools and post offices; (4) The safety of children is the responsibility of adults, not governments; (5) Still, each citizen is not entitled to his or her own personal nuclear warhead. My ideal candidate would be one who would oppose increased restrictions on gun ownership and the creation of more gun-free zones, choosing instead to allow liberty, logic, and civil rights to thrive.
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John McCain has voted for prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers for gun-related violence, against mandatory background checks at gun shows, for additional penalties for gun violations, for allowing guns in national parks, and for banning the gun registration law in Washington, D.C. Though he (like myself) does not own a gun, he supports the right to own one. He opposes restrictions on certain “assault rifles” and voted against the Brady Bill, but he has stated multiple times that he would vote for an assault weapon ban if the details were right. He believes in punishing criminals, not citizens, and supports repealing several existing and ineffective gun restrictions and gun control laws. However, he does support banning poorly-manufactured guns, requiring safety locks, closing certain “gun show loopholes,” and greatly restricting the availability of guns to minors.
Obama, on the other hand, supports gun bans on state and local levels, increasing restrictions and limitations on gun ownership (like limiting the purchase of guns to one a month), allowing concealed carry permits only for retired police officers, and banning assault rifles of all types. He voted against prohibiting lawsuits against gun manufacturers, in effect making the argument that a gun manufacturer can be held liable for what a person does with a gun. Though he has stated that the Second Amendment should be respected, his voting record is clear on the fact that the supports an increase in governmental regulation.
I couldn’t agree with McCain more on this subject than I already do. American citizens have the right to choose their own means of security, both against a tyrannical government and the thug eyeing your car stereo in the dead of night. Obama’s tactic of increasing controls over gun ownership—even if it’s just on the state or local level—is counter-productive to a society that wants to lower the incidence of gun-related violence and respect the civil liberties of its people.
Discrimination on the basis of skin color, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, and economic status should, as quickly as possible, be put behind us. Affirmative action and its bastard step-child of racial quotas are just as discriminatory and unacceptable as separate bathrooms for black people. Skin color should never determine whether or not a person is accepted into a school, given a job (with the possible exception of casting a movie that calls for something specific), or even elected as President of the United States, regardless of whether that color is black, white, or purple. Still, laws designed to enforce diversity while simultaneously celebrating equality are as misguided as they are discriminatory. You cannot force an employer to be color-blind, and any attempt to do so only deepens the division among us. Racism and sexism are social problems, not governmental ones, and the only laws that should be on the books concerning racial equity should be laws about federally-funded employment. My ideal candidate would be color-blind and would support repealing all discriminatory anti-discriminatory laws, so that the government could stop pouring so much salt on the open wound.
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Surprisingly, neither candidate has been all that vocal on this subject, and getting their opinions here is like pulling teeth. John McCain has voted to ban affirmative action hiring with federal funds, though he has stated that the concept of affirmative action is “okay for specific programs,” as long as there are no racial quotas. Barack Obama supports affirmative action in college and government, as long as it takes into account all factors—not just one—so that poor, white kids could get preferential treatment from college admissions over rich, black ones. He wants to increase regulation on equal pay and job discrimination, taking the fight directly to the employer or admissions officer.
While I do not doubt for a moment that Obama’s heart is in the right place, I’ve got to go with McCain on this one. There may have been a time where affirmative action, racial quotas, and integration laws were necessary to affect a societal change, but that time has definitely passed. The very fact that a black man could soon become president is evidence that the civil rights movement was a roaring success, and the attempt to continue to battle racism and bigotry at the federal level has become a naïve attempt to legislate morality. Certainly we, as a society, should strive to rid ourselves of our discriminatory habits, but that is no longer the purview of the government. Obama wants to continue the fight, which is now as pointless as the war on drugs and why I can’t go with him on this issue. McCain, on the other hand, is against racial quotas and affirmative action, at least when it comes to the use of federal funds, and for that reason, I think he’s on the right track.
The very fact that marriage is an institution regulated by the government is hard to justify. The premise that the overall welfare of the country is heightened by heterosexual unions and nuclear families is not—contrary to popular belief—a clear-cut, statistical fact. Moreover, the idea that the government should reward people for following a moral and personal standard goes against the concept of a truly free society. This isn’t even getting into the idea of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman so that homosexuals cannot get married in any state. The whole thing, not just the gay marriage issue, makes my head explode.
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Marriage is a beautiful and wonderful thing, and getting married is the best thing I’ve ever done. I believe that all people—regardless of who they are inclined to have sex and/or spend their lives with, or how they intend to go about it—should be allowed to pursue that kind of happiness. In my opinion, it has absolutely nothing to do with the government. Seriously. Therefore, my perfect candidate would at the very least extend the same silly and arbitrary rewards to all unions (as long as they don’t include children or animals), whether they be between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a Democrat and a Republican, a woman, a man, and another woman, or a priest and a rabbi.
John McCain, though he is against a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, stated that he supports the rights of each state to do so (such as his home state of Arizona). He has made a name for himself speaking about tolerance in front of “antigay” organizations like the Oregon Citizens Alliance, as well as opposing any discrimination against homosexuals when it comes to Senate hiring practices. He has even stated that he would be “comfortable with a homosexual as President of the United States.”
Obama, who is also against the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage, is unclear when it comes to state regulations that seek to define marriage as a heterosexual union. He stated that he does not support the California proposition that does just that, but he has also stated that the issue of marriage should be left to the states. Obama declined to support gay marriage—instead choosing to support the idea of civil unions—but he has gone on record saying that the nation should recognize homosexuals, bisexuals, and the transgendered with full legal equity.
The Libertarian Perspective
Bob Barr, though pro-choice, voted to ban partial-birth abortions and to prohibit minors from crossing state lines to get abortions, supports banning lawsuits against gun manufacturers and lowering the waiting period on guns, voted against anti-discrimination laws in college admissions, and authored the Defense of Marriage Act, mandating that the issue of gay marriage be an issue of state rights.
With the information available, I'd eagerly vote for the Libertarian candidate if civil rights were the only relevant issue. Bob Barr appears to be on my side in all four parts of this week's essay, making him a far stronger candidate than either McCain or Obama.
For the first time, I think I’ll give this one to both candidates. They both support gay rights, even though neither will come out and stand in support of gay marriage. They are both strong on the issues of tolerance, state rights, and civil liberties, and for that, they should both be commended. I don’t agree with McCain when he supports any law that seeks to define marriage as a heterosexual union, but I also don’t agree with Obama when he talks about civil unions being a viable alternative to legal marriage. Still, on the whole, I think both candidates are striving for tolerance, understanding, and compassion, and really, in this world, what more can you ask for?
My Choice if Civil Rights were the Only Relevant Issue
I’ll be perfectly honest: before I started my research this week, I was pretty sure Obama would be the ultimate winner in terms of civil rights. Usually, when it comes to issues like abortion and gay rights, Democrats sound the most reasonable and the most willing to allow people to have their liberties, despite the hypocritical emotionalism they exhibit when they talk about gun control. The Puritanical streak I mentioned at the start of this essay is usually the domain of the Republican, with the religious right insisting that the United States government should follow the moral standards of the Bible.
Therefore, it is surprising to me that, if civil rights were the only relevant issue to me this election year, I’d actually vote for the Republican, John McCain. Sure, he’s a stubborn pro-lifer and abstinence-only advocate, but he’s also a megaphone for gay rights, consistently votes against discriminatory laws, and is a proud supporter of the Second Amendment. Obama, it seems, is the one trying to legislate morality from on high with his insistence on not only supporting but expanding affirmative action laws and heightening gun control, though he is right when he talks about a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. It’s not a clear-cut win for McCain, but on the whole, it’s still a victory.
|The Candidates and Civil Rights|
If you disagree with me (or even if you agree), feel free to add comments below. Otherwise, check back in three weeks when I’ll outline The Candidates and Energy.
-e. magill, 09/02/2008