News & Politics

Hillary vs. Obama: Who is Trying Harder to be "Tough on Crime"?

Hint: Neither is particularly progressive
The San Francisco Chronicle has an article today by Bob Egelko comparing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on crime issues.

Shorter version: They are pretty similar and not particularly liberal (certainly not as much as I would like them to be.)

There are some things I take issue with. For more on Obama's record on crime and defendants' rights, see my earlier analysis here.

It's true, as the article says, that while both support the death penalty, Obama worked to revise it in Illinois to prevent wrongful convictions and Hillary was an early and consistent supporter in Congress of the Innocence Protection Act.

But neither one opposes the death penalty for the guilty. Obama, for example, supported legislation in Illinois to increase crimes eligible for the death penalty -- specifically for those convicted of brutal murders of the elderly and mentally disabled. (Chicago Tribune, May 2, 2001, available on He also supports it for heinous crimes.

In 2004, for the first time since the 1980's, the Dems, at the insistence of John Kerry, dropped the death penalty from their platform. Will Obama or Hillary pledge to keep it out? I doubt it.

On mandatory minimums, the article implies Obama is opposed to them while Hillary is not.
The two differ on crime-related issues that have a lower profile but affect many thousands of prisoners, most of them minorities - the disparity between sentences for offenses involving crack and powder cocaine, and the merits of federal mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. On both, Clinton lines up with the prosecution, Obama with the defense.
While it accurately notes that Obama has tempered his opposition recently by merely calling for a review of mandatory minimums, he's also said his opposition applies to non-violent offenses. And he has doubts about spending political capital to change them.
He said that if he were to become president, he would support a commission to issue a report "that allows me to say that based on the expert evidence, this is not working and it's unfair and unjust. Then I would move legislation forward."
"Even if we fix this, if it was a 1-to-1 ratio, it's still a problem that folks are selling crack. It's still a problem that our young men are in a situation where they believe the only recourse for them is the drug trade. So there is a balancing act that has to be done in terms of, do we want to spend all our political capital on a very difficult issue that doesn't get at some of the underlying issues; whether we want to spend more of that political capital getting early childhood education in place, getting after-school programs in place, getting summer school programs in place."
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