Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation’s premier defender of liberty and individual freedom.
Since the presidential election began in earnest earlier this spring, the GOP candidates have been in a race to attach themselves to the DNA of Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln and Grover Norquist. This is nothing new. What is new -- and a race of its own -- is their ferocious competition to be seen as defenders and guardians of our Constitution.
Over and over during debates, on TV ads and splashed across campaign websites and Twitter feeds, the candidates have invoked the Constitution as a means of undermining policies they oppose and promoting policies they support.
It’s a great political device to use a document revered as much as the flag itself. What sometimes gets lost, however, is that the Constitution wasn’t written as fodder for political campaigns. It was written to be the foundation for all our freedoms.
That’s why the American Civil Liberties Union launched a new campaign this year -- ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 -- to be a watchdog on the candidates of all parties so that the Constitution is defended throughout the election campaign.
Just in time for the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, we’re releasing a report card today, with the ACLU’s Constitution and civil liberties experts providing a critical assessment of the major candidates of all parties, grading them with four to zero constitutional “torches” on seven key issues, including national security, immigration, marriage equality and reproductive choice. More issues will be added.
We may surprise some people in that the scores in the report card -- which is viewable here -- 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.
Ultimately, the good news from the report card is that genuine support for our constitutional values and freedoms has no partisan boundaries. Indeed, Ron Paul’s recent surge in Iowa has been attributed to his adherence to the Constitution and civil liberties.
Like the Constitution, the ACLU Liberty Watch report card is a dynamic, living document that we’ll continue to update throughout the 2012 election. Because our rights matter. And because we’re choosing our president in 2012, not our liberties.
Follow ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 on Twitter at @ACLULW, at Facebook.com/ACLULibertyWatch and at www.ACLULibertyWatch.org