The Washington Post called him an “expert on the Bill of Rights, the Supreme Court, student rights and education,” and he was a longtime Village Voice writer and icon for progressives.
But he no longer looks to Democrats to represent his view because of what has happened to the Democratic Party under President Obama.
Nat Hentoff told WND Wednesday he’s been a longtime supporter of Democrats, but occasionally has endorsed a Republican, as he did in his column at WND on Tuesday. He said America needs a president like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Hentoff said that when he reviews candidates, he looks for an affinity for the Constitution.
“I used to be a Democrat. But under Mr. Obama that party has rather disintegrated,” he told WND. “I’m more likely to vote for who I believe supports the Constitution.”
In his WND column, Hentoff cited Paul’s 13-hour filibuster in 2013 against the appointment of John Brennan as head of the CIA.
“For me, Paul made real a fantasy I’d long held: that someone running for the presidency, as he clearly is, would focus insistently on what it means under our Constitution to be an American – with basic individual rights and liberties no government has the authority to suspend or erase,” Hentoff wrote.
“During that crisply related filibuster, for example, he told a sizable, but briefly attentive nation: ‘Your government was given a few defined powers (by the Constitution), enumerated powers. … But your liberties are many. … When you read the Ninth and 10th Amendment(s), it says that those rights not explicitly given to government are left to the states and the people. They’re yours, not to be disparaged.’
“Hearing that, I wondered how many Americans know what is in the Ninth and 10th Amendments. Do you?”
Hentoff said that if members of Congress understood the Constitution, they wouldn’t be doing some of the things they are now.
He said that while he’s concerned that Paul might embrace too much of the isolationist tendencies of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, the Kentucky senator’s focus on civil liberties is his No. 1 issue now.
“Our main problem is keeping who we are as Americans,” he wrote.
He said he wonders what will happen in the next congressional and president elections, especially with several members of the Supreme Court likely to be replaced.
“The Supreme Court is getting further and further from parts of the Constitution,” he said.
Hentoff said Paul’s filibuster speech “also referred caustically to how the media is treating ‘bipartisanship’ in Congress.”
Paul said: “They see us not getting along on taxes and spending, but they fail to understand that on something very important, on whether an individual has a right not to be restrained indefinitely, there is quite a bit of partisanship, usually in the wrong direction.’”
Hentoff criticized Congress and Obama for adopting the National Defense Authorization Act, which empowers the military to indefinitely imprison American citizens without a trial for “supporting terrorism,” terms that are not defined.
“Where did Congress find the authority for endless ‘restraining’ in the Constitution? As for the president, he has made it clear that he has a pen, and having been re-elected, he is the Constitution.”
Hentoff also recently said he unexpectedly found himself in agreement with John Roberts when the Supreme Court chief justice sided with the majority in a decision to lift federal campaign donation limits.
The McCutcheon decision means wealthy donors can contribute the maximum amount allowed to as many individual candidates as they choose. Previously, the individual maximum permitted contributions only up to nine candidates.
Hentoff said his first reaction to the decision was anger, “just like when the Supreme Court found that corporations and unions have the right to create those superpacs.”
But then he said gave it a second thought.
“The more I think about this, the more I must admit – and I disagree with John Roberts most of the time – that, as he has written in the decision, if Nazis can have First Amendment rights, and I have supported that in the past, if certain groups can interrupt funerals of people they oppose ideologically, and I have supported that, with great reluctance I must agree [with the majority opinion],” he told WND.
He said he agrees with Justice Clarence Thomas that the government should remove all the statutory and regulatory impediments “to the ways in which people can exercise their basic right for political speech.”
Hentoff’s list of honors includes an honorary doctorate of laws from Northeastern, where he was removed previously as the editor of the Northeastern News for being too independent. He has published books on jazz, education, the Catholic Church, free speech and more.
He was a Fulbright fellow at the Sorbonne during his college years and worked as associate editor of Down Beat. He later was honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship in education and an American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award.
He expounded on his views with a weekly Village Voice column. He also has written on jazz for the Wall Street Journal.