If the Democratic presidential primary were held today in your state, whom would you support? Cast your vote in the Nation Poll.

As a civil libertarian and Connecticut voter, I have been watching with deepening interest and admiration as Chris Dodd has honed a quixotic presidential crusade as if he were not just the senior senator from the Constitution State but the senior senator representing the Constitution itself.

Dodd–like Clinton, Edwards and Biden–failed the great political leadership test of the Bush era, voting for the Iraq War. But in ways far more specific and uncompromising than his rivals, and without a breath of Clintonian equivocation, Dodd has been fighting to redeem himself and undo the damage of the “war on terror.” On human rights, war crimes and civil liberties issues, Dodd has been laying down all the markers. Nowhere was this clearer than when he announced he would block any Senate vote to immunize telecom companies for participating in illegal taps. His stance immediately changed the terms of debate over upcoming revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, ensuring accountability for recent abuses. Torture? Dodd wants to cut off funding for the Office of Legal Counsel if it doesn’t release its memos on interrogation. He was one of the first to oppose Attorney General-designate Michael Mukasey for his evasions on waterboarding and presidential authority to override human rights laws: Dodd’s Restoring the Constitution Act would ensure that habeas corpus protections apply to all people in US custody; it would also prohibit the use of evidence gained through coercive interrogation and put violations of the Geneva Conventions securely under the War Crimes Act.

While Dodd is hardly blemish-free (he’s deeply and disturbingly tied to the banking and finance industries, for instance), it is hard to find an elected official with a more consistent record of support for progressive social policy. Dodd, who crafted the Family and Medical Leave Act, is the Senate’s great champion of child-centered healthcare reform. On that issue everyone else, including Hillary, is just playing catch-up.

But it is war crimes abroad and civil liberties at home that obsess Chris Dodd today, an obsession explicitly grounded in the labors his father, Tom Dodd, undertook as a prosecutor at Nuremberg. Tom Dodd is remembered today mostly for the ethical blindness that ended his Senate career; in linking the lessons of Nuremberg to the era of waterboarding and Guantánamo, Chris Dodd seems at times to pursue redemption for son and father alike.

Will I vote for Chris Dodd? I don’t know. But I do think his campaign deserves attention and respect. Dodd is doing what progressives and civil libertarians always say they want a presidential candidate to do: refusing to compromise on human rights and demanding accountability for atrocity. This year, that’s the platform that counts.

Other Essays in This Series

John Nichols for Joseph Biden
Ellen Chesler for Hillary Clinton
Katherine S. Newman for John Edwards
Richard Kim for Mike Gravel
Gore Vidal for Dennis Kucinich
Michael Eric Dyson for Barack Obama
Rocky Anderson for Bill Richardson