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The Candidates 2012

The Candidates and Civil Rights 2012

As the Declaration of Independence eloquently points out, the government exists to secure, with "the consent of the governed," the unalienable rights that people are endowed with "by their Creator." Our founding fathers considered this the most important role that a free republic needed to play, and they knew that the Revolutionary War with Britain did not address it perfectly, leaving the contentious issue of slavery--among much else--for other generations to tackle. We've come a long way since our founding, but we must remain vigilant to secure rights that our government continues to infringe upon and to keep the rights we may take for granted.

Romney and Ryan
They don't look like they oppose same-sex marriage...
It would be difficult to address every single political issue in modern America that deals with civil rights, so I'm going to stick to what I consider the four biggest: abortion, gun control, voter ID, and gay marriage. This necessarily omits a few things, like religious liberty, affirmative action, the Patriot Act, drone surveillance of American citizens, the "free" contraceptives debate, Citizens United, and much else. Still, I go into this one genuinely unsure which of the two main candidates will come out ahead. Four years ago, I picked McCain by a razor thin margin, with the deciding factor being his unashamed support of gay rights weighed against Obama's stated position against gay marriage. Since then, Obama has changed his position (though I tend to believe this was a political calculation and not a change of heart, I absolutely cannot let that bias me as it would go against my goals here and would force me to talk about many other blatantly political flip-flops, such as Romney's stance on abortion), and of course, Mitt Romney is not John McCain.

When it comes to civil rights, I don't think of myself as leaning either right or left, as both sides of the political spectrum tend to have a mixed record. Republicans, in general, oppose things like gay marriage and abortion on stubbornly Puritanical grounds, but they are firm defenders of gun rights and religious liberty. Democrats, on the other hand, tend to support the freedom of choice when it comes to marriage and abortion, but they also spend so much time carving up the nation into competing minority interests that they encourage bitter divisions, racial stereotypes, and class warfare. With those opinions disclaimed, I'll try, as always, to keep an open mind, to take both candidates at their word, and to not let talking heads and talking points influence my ultimate vote.


Abortion

I am pro-choice, believing that, since the issue of abortion cannot be satisfactorily settled by scientists, theologians, or politicians, the government should default to liberty and stay out of it. Personally, I don't know where I stand on the morality of abortion and I am thankful that I've never had to decide, but I firmly and absolutely believe that our elected leaders can't answer the question for me. Additionally, even though I tend to favor the rights of states over the federal government to decide these things, I don't favor the overturning of Roe v. Wade; I think it is a step in the right direction and the often misunderstood rationale of the decision stands up to constitutional scrutiny. Having said all of that, I also think that minors should require parental notification and consent to get an abortion, that an exception for rape and incest is inherently hypocritical (a life's a life, right?), that "partial-birth" abortion is abhorrent, and that abortion should not be socially encouraged as an alternative to sexual responsibility.

Todd Akin
Todd Akin: proof that the straw man is real
Mitt Romney is pro-life [1]. He seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade and he "wishes that the laws of our nation reflected" the view that "life begins at conception." He also supports the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of federal funds for abortion, and wants to completely defund Planned Parenthood. Additionally, Romney has said he supports abortion in the cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is in jeopardy [2].

President Obama is pro-choice, opposing the overturning of Roe v. Wade [3]. He doesn't believe that parental notification should be required for an abortion, and though he has resisted all attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, he has stated that he agrees that federal funding should not be used for abortions excepting in cases of rape, incest, or a mother whose life is in danger [4].

Both candidates are too extreme in their views for my taste. Romney's wish to repeal Roe v. Wade is misguided and unrealistic, and his view that the law should be pro-life is abhorrent to a free country that doesn't legislate morality on strictly religious grounds. Obama, on the other hand, with his resistence to parental notification, reveals himself to be very far to the left on abortion. As for Planned Parenthood and federal funding for abortions, I honestly couldn't care much less than I already do. In general, I want the government to be spending less money and don't think Planned Parenthood is an absolutely necessary federal expense, but the idea of federal money being spent on abortions doesn't give me any moral heebie-jeebies. As a result, I give the president a win on abortion, even though I think he goes too far, because he is at least on the side of liberty.


Gun Control

I believe in the Second Amendment, and I don't believe that it is in any way outdated. Though I don't personally own a gun, I respect the right of the people to arm themselves for defense, hunting, and recreation. Most gun control laws are counter-productive--as the high incidence of gun violence in gun-free zones attest--and any government that wants to disarm the populace takes away the last line of defense they have against tyranny. On the other hand, I do not on principle disapprove of attempts to regulate firearms, require photo ID to purchase them, prevent violent offenders and the mentally ill from acquiring them, and restrict the ownership of extreme weaponry, though I think legislators need to be insanely careful about each and every regulation they create.

man with too many guns
You can try to take them from him, but I think I'll pass
As he proudly proclaims on his website, Romney "strongly supports the right of all law-abiding Americans to exercise their constitutionally protected right to own firearms and to use them for lawful purposes, including hunting, recreational shooting, self-defense, and the protection of family and property," and "does not believe that the United States needs additional laws that restrict the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms" [5]. He goes on to make general statements against federal regulations, which he believes "do nothing more than burden law-abiding citizens while being ignored by criminals," while stressing that he will enforce the laws that already exist, encouraging the punishment of violent offenders "to the fullest extent of the law."

I was surprised to find the following paragraph on Barack Obama's website: "President Obama supports gun owners’ rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment, which he believes guarantees an individual’s right to bear arms. The President signed legislation that expanded the rights of law-abiding gun owners to bring firearms into national parks" [6]. While it is true that he has carefully talked about protecting the Second Amendment whenever gun control comes up--and while he did indeed sign a credit card bill with an amendment that allows firearms in national parks--he has also stated that he wishes to close gun show loopholes and reinstate the assault rifle ban [7]. These stances are indeed much milder than those he took on the 2008 campaign trail, and his record over the last four years has been one friendly to the Second Amendment but reasonable when it comes to improving background checks and other good-conscience attempts to regulate.

Okay, this one is probably the biggest shock I've had thus far in my 2012 candidates series, even bigger than Romney's strong opposition to creationism. I actually agree more with Barack Obama's stated positions on gun control than I do with Mitt Romney's. I don't believe that all regulations are inherently bad--contrary to what some of my left-leaning friends think--and I think Obama takes the less extreme road here. I don't necessarily agree with the assault rifle ban, but closing the gun show loophole is a damn good idea and it is certainly helpful to discuss reasonable precautions to keep gun violence from spiraling out of control. Sure, there are a lot of gun regulations that are unnecessary and burdensome, but that doesn't mean we can't at least have a conversation on the matter. Besides, president Obama gets failing grades from both the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the National Rifle Association, so he obviously isn't pandering for votes.

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-e. magill 9/25/2012










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