Obama is Bad on Civil Liberties, But Romney Would Be Much Worse

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Like a lot of liberals, I’m not very happy with President Obama’s handling of national security and civil liberties issues. Just to name a few of them, I think drone strikes are overused; U.S. citizens overseas shouldn’t be targeted for assassination without judicial oversight; surveillance rules should be considerably stricter; and the state secrets privilege ought to be reined in. At the same time, I recognize that a lot of this stuff is dictated more by public and congressional opinion than it is by Obama himself, so I tend to be a little more tolerant of Obama’s poor record than some.

In any case, Mark Kleiman reminds us all today that Mitt Romney would be even worse. Last year Romney was asked whether he thinks waterboarding is torture. Here was his extremely matter-of-fact answer:

I don’t, but I don’t….I’m not going to lay out the list of what is and what is not torture….We will have a policy of doing what we think is in our best interest. We’ll use enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now.

Obama’s track record on civil liberties is poor. At the same time, Obama at least tried to close Guantanamo; Romney wants to double it. Obama and Eric Holder at least made an effort to hold civilian trials for terrorist suspects; Romney is contemptuous of them. Obama banned torture; Romney wants to bring it back. And Obama has been restrained on intervention in Syria and Iran; Romney is eager to set red lines and begin directly arming rebels.

Anyone whose vote is based on civil liberties and national security issues ought to be aware of what it means to do anything that makes a Romney victory more likely. As bad as you think things are now, it means implicitly supporting the election of someone who would make them appreciably worse. It’s sophistry to pretend otherwise.

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