ACLU Ranks Presidential Candidates

ACLU Ranks Presidential Candidates January 5, 2012

The ACLU has put out a voter guide for all the 2012 presidential candidates, ranking them all on 7 issues: humane immigration policy, closing Gitmo and indefinite detention, gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, ending torture, ending the surveillance state, same-sex marriage, and reproductive rights. Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director, writes:

We may surprise some people in that the scores in the report card … don’t divide along party lines. In fact, the report card reveals a deep ideological rift in the GOP.

Our experts found that Republicans Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman earned solid scores, with four, three and two torches across most major categories, although both received one torch on marriage equality and none on reproductive rights.

President Obama also achieved solid scores or better across most categories, including four torches for ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. However, he received just one torch and none for keeping Guantanamo Bay open and continuing unconstitutional surveillance under the PATRIOT act, respectively.

Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson scored even better than Paul, Huntsman and Obama, earning four and three torches on most major issues. They stand in stark contrast to the other major GOP candidates, three of whom — Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — didn’t earn a single torch in any of the seven major categories.

Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich received torches in only one category: two torches each for promoting a humane immigration policy, including their support for a path to legal status for some long-term residents.

I would add a few more issues in there, most obviously the use of the State Secrets Privilege, transparency in government and other executive power issues, ending the war on drugs, police and prosecutorial misconduct, police brutality, the death penalty and access to DNA evidence. But on those issues, Johnson and Paul are still going to score a lot better than Obama. I’ve already given the many reasons why I won’t support Paul. Gary Johnson is someone I could probably support. I hope he gets the Libertarian Party nomination so I’ll at least have the option.

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  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    Gary Johnson is someone I could probably support.

    I assume you must not be aware of the fact that in one of the debates that allowed him in, Gov. Johnson argued he would advocate immediately balancing the federal budget in his first full-year budget proposal submitted to Congress, FY2014 (which begins 10/1/2013). That is mathematically impossible assuming he wants to avoid an unprecedented economic crash. This requires only seventh grade math to figure out why.

    His slashing spending by about $1.2 or so trillion would cause a crash in the economy and therefore a crash in income. It would also drastically increase mandatory spending on some items which increase during a recession. It would effectively turn millions of taxpayers into out-of-work welfare recipients.

    Federal revenues are predominately a function of income times the effective rate. Conservatives and libertarians seem to not understand that revenues are not generated by rates alone but instead by effective tax rates multiplied by income; where income is dynamic and greatly affected by both federal fiscal policy and The Fed’s monetary policy, not merely the business cycle and the performance of other economies. [I’m not referring to Ed here since I assume he’s not aware of Gov. Johnson’s campaign promise.] I would argue, comfortably, that neither Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin ever advocated a more idiotic and dangerous position. It was really breathtaking to hear him give and repeat this promise.

    Here’s the applicable transcript, which is from the Fox News sponsored debate. I submit his first reference to this topic here:

    FORMER GOV. GARY JOHNSON, R-N.M.: I’m promising to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013. That’s a 43 percent reduction in federal spending.

    I am going to promise to advocate the abolishment of the federal Department of Education.


    The federal Department of Education gives each state 11 cents out of every dollar that every state spends, but it comes with 16 cents worth of strings attached. So what America does not understand is that it’s a negative to take federal money. Give it to 50 laboratories of innovation, the states, to improve on, and that’s what we’ll see:

    dramatic improvement.

    Johnson’ repeats his lunacy later in the debate:

    JOHNSON: I think the biggest threat to our national security is the fact that we’re bankrupt, so I am promising to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013, and included in that is a 43 percent reduction in military spending.

    I think it’s crazy that we have foreign aid to company — to countries when we’re borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar to do that.


    Military alliances — military alliances are really key to other countries taking up the slack.

    With regard to flights to Cuba? You know, I’m — I’m in favor, I think, of the whole notion that trade promotes friendship, as opposed to not. So I would be inclined to looking at establishing or supporting those kinds of flights.

    While many conservatives and libertarians claim we’re bankrupt, that is simply a big fat lie by Gov. Johnson. Mr. Johnson risks being labeled a “liar and a fraud” by Ed Brayton (I sure hope so). Defending this statement as obvious hyperbole doesn’t resonate because it’s obvious Gov. Johnson and his ilk fully intend to misinform the public regarding the country’s solvency in order to get their votes. I can confidently predict a Johnson presidency would be a far greater “disaster” than an Obama presidency if either were able to fully pass their respective agendas.

  • Dennis N

    Can’t get behind Gary Johnson, his economic positions would be disasterous. Whereas Congress would not be with him on his liberties stances, they would join him in slashing taxes and social welfare spending, sliding our country further down the quality of living index at a rapid rate.

  • Dennis N

    Or, what Heath said.

  • Michael Heath

    I suggest zooming out on the linked page to better compare candidates without losing the category titles. My keyboard command key for zoom-out wasn’t able to do that beyond one zoom, however using the zoom-out icon on the page itself did work.

  • Michael Heath

    I would not give President Obama, and probably Gov. Huntsman, three “flames” for ending torture. Starting with four flames, Obama should get knocked down a flame for failing to initiate a serious criminal investigation into the Bush Administration’s use of torture. He should get knocked down a second flame for continuing certain relationships with other countries which allows some detainees to be tortured by those countries. And his own Administration has abused detainees such as Bradlee Manning and at least a handful in Afghanistan. So at best two flames, arguably one.

    I’m also not sure how one can receive three flames like Obama does for gay marriage. Four flames would be working hard to make it happen in Obama’s case or a highly promoted platform plank for competing candidates. Three stars should be for passive support. Obama currently opposes gay marriage though no one believes him (including me). But still, that’s his position and he should be dinged accordingly.

  • Johnson seems less ideological and more pragmatic than Ron Paul. He also has actual executive experience. That suggests to me that if he’s wrong on an issue he can be convinced otherwise. I can think of a number of issues where I disagree with him (he’s for laws banning closed shops and against carbon taxes even though he recognizes AGW is real for starters), but on civil liberties, he’s more of a liberal than Obama will ever be. If it’s between Obama, Romney and Johnson, I’m voting Johnson.

    Even if you don’t like him, someone coming in and taking votes from Romney (and to a lesser degree, Obama) and weakening the republicrat hegemony is a good thing.

  • I am fully aware that Gary Johnson has some positions that are really bad. But since that’s true of every possible candidate, it’s not terribly relevant to me. The question for me is which candidate is most right on the issues I care about the most (and the budget and the economy aren’t even in the top 10, frankly).

  • How many flames does Obama lose for signing NDAA? Doesn’t that put him in the negative category?

  • organon

    Caution Mr. Brayton. You are running the risk that some are going to declare the ACLU nothing but a right wing propaganda machine.

  • abb3w

    I’d note that on several of these issues, it seems Obama is being judged by what he actually did, while the others are being judged by “Support” — their advocacy, as opposed to votes or other actions of substance. As such, Huntsman and Johnson may look better than they would actually turn out to be. (Ron Paul has generally backed his odd stances with self-consistently peculiar voting.)

    Not that this doesn’t mean Obama’s stances on some things haven’t been terrible in an absolute sense — merely that he may be relatively better.

  • organon

    Regarding #7, I am guessing that the top 10 relate back to fundamental rights in one form or another. So many of the most serious issues seem to come back to civil liberties when looking closer at the particular issue. From what I am understanding from the comment, I would have to agree. Loose our basic rights, and the economy will be the least of our problem. Police state, wire tapping, torture, violation of rights for individuals that fall within particular groups, state mandated religion, laws being based on biblical law, war on drugs, and on and on. Not that I’m guessing which are in your top ten. Just that there seem to be an almost endless array of issues that come down to those things upon which freedom is based. Individual rights (and not just individual rights for some, but for all). Our country spends an insane amount on the military. If anyone is concerned about the economy, they might look toward the wars in the middle east having cost us a few trillion dollars, and like a gift that keeps on giving, will continue costing us for a long time to come even after ending. There are some very interesting numbers that various persons have included in articles, including by John Whitehead. The dark ages were economically bad, but the fundamental problem was not the economy.

  • I think @organon has a good point and I was thinking the same thing. Unfortunately in politics, you’re often comparing a known failure with an unknown. Obama the candidate certainly would look a little better on that card. When comparing candidates, you might apply a handicap to the incumbent since they nearly always turn out worse than their promises and not the other way around. The other candidates do, however, have histories that are relevant, especially those who have been governor before; it’s just in the oval office where they have none.

    I still think on issues of civil liberties, Johnson trumps Obama. And Obama, for all his faults, trumps the non-Ron Paul Republicans (and Ron Paul on some issues, including reproductive rights).

  • organon

    Many will have already seen this. In the hope that there are some out there who might find this Jon Stewart clip amusing, or perhaps interesting at the least, I am posting a link for it here.

  • slc1

    Re Ed Brayton @ #7

    The question for me is which candidate is most right on the issues I care about the most (and the budget and the economy aren’t even in the top 10, frankly).

    I am afraid I am going to have to disagree with our distinguished host here. What he forgets is that bad economics can lead to dictatorship. Case in point, Frankenberger’s takeover in Germany in 1933. It should also be pointed out that there was talk among military leaders of a coup in the US in the early thirties because of the dire economic situation. It should be recalled that the military (at least the army) was much weaker then then it is today. A depression with an unemployment rate of 30%, which, as Heath points out, would be the outcome if President Gary Johnson was successful in implementing his insane economic program would, in all probability, lead to a breakdown in law and order which only the military could curb.

  • Michael Heath


    [Gary Johson’s] against carbon taxes even though he recognizes AGW is real for starters)

    I went to his website and found no positions taken on the single greatest threat facing humanity. Are we really supposed to take him seriously relative to President Obama given his absurd position on fiscal policy and the lack of a prominent position on climate change?

  • benjdm

    Where’s Rocky Anderson? He should be on the list.

  • organon
  • dogmeat

    I’ve got to pipe in and voice my agreement with Michael Heath. Johnson’s economic plan wouldn’t just be bad, it would be catastrophic. Such an economic collapse could likely lead to far greater hardship than we see today.

    I also have to agree with the argument that Obama is being somewhat unfairly downgraded for stances on issues that he has been forced into compromises or flat out blocked from fulfilling. Gitmo, if I recall correctly, can’t be closed because congress has effectively defunded any such effort to do so. I also agree that he is benefitting from inflated grades in some areas.

    As far as I’m concerned, he’s better than the other candidates, but that being said, it’s akin to celebrating being shot in the foot instead of the groin, stomach, head, etc. Not exactly a cause for celebration.

  • juice

    Gary Johnson is someone I could probably support.

    I like Johnson overall, but he wants a national sales tax and that’s just not a good idea. I wish he’d end his support for that.

  • wscott

    New Mexico is my home state, and I lived there during part of Johnson’s term as Governor. How can I put this graciously…? The man’s an idiot and a buffoon. The fact that he has a few good ideas is living proof of the adage that even a blind dog finds a bone now and then.* And he was completely ineffective. Notice how he hardly ever brings up his record as as Governor? That’s cuz he didn’t accomplish anything. All these big ideas he’s known for now? He didn’t bring any of them up until well into his second term, and wasn’t able to get a single one of them enacted. He was a laughing stock even by the low standards of NM politics.

    *Which is a pretty stupid saying, now that I think about it, since dogs hunt more by smell than by sight…