the diff: Education, National Security, Immigration and Courts

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the education, national security, immigration and courts diff 

In its “Presidential Diff” series, citizenJoe peers into ’09 to predict what, exactly, will be the diff between having a Clinton, McCain or Obama in the Oval Office. Having covered health care, energy & the environment and the economy in earlier issues, cJ now rounds out its series with – almost everything else.


  • The diff: Dollars for public schools and maybe a testing requirement or two.

After stalling for two years, Congress looks set to give No Child Left Behind a make-over in ’09, responding to years of griping that the act is under-funded, overly reliant on standardized tests and unfairly punitive of struggling schools.

Just how the next president will leave his/her imprint on the next incarnation of NCLB, which funds low-income schools and sets up goals for student achievement, is far from certain. The only good bet is that McCain, rarely hot to increase non-defense spending, is less likely to okay more cash for NCLB, which is at top of Clinton’s and Obama’s promise list.

Otherwise, while the candidates talk a radically different game on NCLB - Clinton’s website wants to “scrap” the act while McCain gives it tepid praise –the real battle over refashioning the bill may take place on the congressional floor and not between lawmakers and the White House.

Democrats (who are almost sure to keep control of Capitol Hill) are divided on how much to ease up on standardized tests, some cautioning they force teachers to see students as “walking bubble charts,” while others like how tests shine a glaring light on educational slum lords. Lawmakers are also ambivalent about much to de-fang the act by giving districts flexibility in dealing with struggling schools. McCain would nudge negotiations toward stricter standards on both accounts, Clinton would swing the other way and Obama would nestle somewhere in between, but none may end up having much pull.


  • The diff: bordering on nada.

Major immigration reform nosedived in ’07 – taking with it efforts to deal with illegal immigration and industry’s scramble for foreign-born labor (particularly farm and IT labor). If Congress gives comprehensive reform another go – including in it a path to legitimacy for millions of illegal residents – there’s little question lawmakers would find sympathy in the White House; all three of the presidential frontrunners voted for similar reforms as senators. The toss up is whether Congress will have the appetite for a second round anytime soon, after 2007 taught them immigration reform is by and large political poison.

National Security

  • The diff: 40,000 soldiers and a your-guess-as-good-as-any.

The one unmistakable difference between a Commander-in-Chief McCain vs. Clinton or Obama is their willingness to keep troops in Iraq. But in spite of McCain’s famous and longstanding support of a surge and his remarks about eons of Iraqi occupation, he’d still have to deal with the realities of a military stretched thin and a challenging Congress. The Dems, likewise, won’t be ending the Iraq war anytime soon; both candidates concede that any withdrawal will be slow – and not entirely complete, with Clinton and Obama saying it’ll be necessary to keep a long-term (albeit smaller) presence in and around Iraq for counter-terrorism reasons. Net/net, we’re in Iraq for the long-haul, but for the thousands of soldiers likely to come home sooner under a Dem, the diff is big.

On other foreign policy fronts prognostications are, we admit, pointless. History – recall the non-interventionist candidate Bush – suggests it’s hard to predict how the Leader of the Free World will act before he or she is in the driver’s seat. How the three candidates will handle the growing mega-power China, a testy Russia, nuclear-testing Iran or a teetering Pakistan, for example, will be proved in the pudding.

At home, the three front-runners will deliver a mixed bag of news for civil libertarians and human rights advocates. None of the candidates seem eager to restrain their ability to spy on us; in a recent bill giving the feds broad powers to tap calls without a warrant, McCain was all in favor while Clinton and Obama were among three abstainers. Habeas corpus (that is, the right to contest your imprisonment in federal court) has a better shot of being revived under a Dem presidency. Torture, on the other hand, may become history no matter who’s in the White House (even though McCain has recently backtracked on his anti-torture crusade).

The Courts

  • The diff: the future of civil liberties, guns, abortion, property rights, death penalty – and a whole lot more.

We’ve left the part where a president may have the greatest impact (after national security) – to last. And, well, we don’t have much to say.

SCOTUS watchers are guessing that at least two liberal Supreme Court justices – Stevens and Souter - will retire in the next four years. With an evenly divided conservative-liberal court today, a new prez could either keep the balance (if Clinton or Obama get to nominate) or tip the court right (McCain). Just how conservative McCain nominees would be is not so clear though; on the campaign trail the Republican maverick praises the courts’ Scalitos but, given that those “strict constructionists” may buck some of McCain’s favored policies (campaign finance, for one), some are guessing he may go conservative-lite in his picks.

That’s on the line, of course, is a lot. Roe v. Wade may not be ditched entirely, but the right of a woman to access an abortion may continue to be whittled away. The rights of “enemy combatants,” the line to draw between gun rights and gun control, the death penalty and property rights are just a few of the issues likely to land on the Supreme’s plate in upcoming years.

Could we add a topic to this list???

I like where this topic is going, but I'd like to add another topic to be researched and answered by the now 2 main candidates.


The Bush Administration has instituted, and set precedence, on many issues relating to Executive Power, that have diminished the "checks and balances" of our supposedly democratic government.  If president, what do the candidates plan to do with this new found Executive power?  Seek even greater executive authority? Decrease this authority to enhance our check and balance system? Keep as is and ride it out?



Dave (not verified) | June 27, 2008 - 2:30pm