Friday, July 4, 2008

Obama's inexplicable flip-flop

No, not on Iraq. Obama's position on Iraq has always been nuanced, and yet again, this is nothing but the media being over-anxious to call him a flip-flopper like Kerry. No, I'm talking about FISA.

In response to a group of supporters on his campaign website pressuring him to fight the new FISA bill, Obama released a new statement yesterday, in which he feels our pain over immunity, but says that the new bill is better than the old bill (which was voted down), and that it at least gives FISA "exclusivity" in these matters, and that national security is important too, you DFHs.

The problem is that a new travesty being slightly better than the old travesty is not any excuse to vote for a travesty. And the much vaunted "exclusivity" of the FISA court already exists under the current legal framework, as three separate judges have already affirmed.

So besides the bullshit "exclusivity", what else does the bill do?

The new FISA bill that Obama supports vests new categories of warrantless
eavesdropping powers in the President
(.pdf), and allows the Government, for the first time, to tap physically into U.S. telecommunications networks inside our country with no individual warrant requirement. To claim that this new bill creates "an independent monitor [to] watch the watchers to prevent abuses and to protect the civil liberties of the American people" is truly misleading, since the new FISA bill actually does the opposite -- it frees the Government from exactly that monitoring in all sorts of broad categories.

Why else would Bush and Cheney be so eager to have this bill if it didn't substantially expand the Government's ability to eavesdrop without warrants?

And here is Obama assuring all of us "don't worry, the government will get to the bottom of this":

The Inspectors General report also provides a real mechanism for accountability
and should not be discounted. It will allow a close look at past misconduct
without hurdles that would exist in federal court because of classification
issues. The recent investigation uncovering the illegal politicization of
Justice Department hiring sets a strong example of the accountability that can
come from a tough and thorough IG report.

"Strong example of accountability"? Er, maybe not so much. Does anyone really trust the US government to set a strong example of accountability through investigating itself, even under an Obama administration? Sure, a "tough and thorough" IG report may well uncover evidence of rampant lawbreaking under the Bush administration, but will there be prosecutions? More importantly, will there be convictions? No. That isn't accountability. And this is why Bush, Cheney and co. are so anxious to close off the possibility of any third-party investigations that actually would hold their feet to the fire.

But anyway, I guess what is "inexplicable" about all this is the question of how the hell Obama could possibly see any political advantage in what he is doing. For one thing, he has consistently and strongly voiced his opposition to the very things he now supports. If this isn't a flip-flop, I don't know what is. Simultaneously, it pisses off his liberal base like nothing else, and even people like me who are pretty much in the tank for him already (I don't have a vote, but I do have a voice, goddammit).

Senate majority leader Harry Reid has said he will vote against it; other prominent Senators such as Russ Feingold, Chris Dodd, and Pat Leahy have been unwavering in their opposition. Hillary Clinton would likely follow Obama's lead, given their newfound buddy-buddy relationship.

Obama could make a difference here. But he seems to have chosen not to. Why? There are two possibilities, from where I'm standing. Either he mistakenly believes it to be good politics to cave to the Republicans on issues of national security (even though he has never before shown any signs of this), or he wants the expanded powers for himself.

Neither conclusion is very palatable. Here's hoping he changes his mind; there's still time.


Tony Kondaks said...

Do pledged Obama delegates have the obligation to switch votes at the convention if they feel that he no longer represents the sentiments of those that elected him?

The DNC rules not only allow it, they encourage it:

Desmond said...

Great, but that solves nothing. If not Obama, then who? Hillary doesn't give a shit about FISA either. This just isn't a winning issue, as much as we might want it to be.

Despite his faults, Obama is still by far the best candidate for President that the Democrats could nominate.