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Thursday, July 03, 2008

FISA Capitulation is Not Leadership, Senator

As anyone who reads this blog (or spends five minutes with me out here in the real world) knows, I am an unabashed and wholehearted supporter of Barack Obama for President. That said, the man is severely disappointing me lately.

It's not his call for more Faith Based Initiatives - though that's troubling, for a variety of reasons, it is not in and of itself a bad thing. As long as there's serious controls in place to prevent federal money from being used to proselytize, or to push a radical religious agenda, and that the recipients have to be held to some standards (like, not discriminating on grounds of faith or "values" or whatever), I'm okay with it in principle.

But his about-face on the issue of FISA is deeply disturbing. First off, as a constitutional law scholar, one would expect Obama to realize the stakes here. We're talking about the very fabric of of American freedom. (For some background, Kagro X at Daily Kos has a really good rundown on the issue here)

Not to mention that it's a losing issue for him in a number of ways. He has been rightfully lauded for his willingness and ability to fight the garbage which has had so many Democrats running in fear for so long. For him to capitulate on this issue reeks of that fear, fear that he'll be painted as somehow soft on terror for choosing the Constitution over the whims of the unitary executive, when in fact he, and we, know this is not the case. The American people are wise to the fear mongering strategy which served the GOP so well in 2002 and 2004.

Worse yet, he's flying in the face of his own very strong arguments, which in no small way contributed to the support he's gained from progressives who understand the stakes of the issue.

TPM Election Central has assembled a compendium of Obama's statements on FISA throughout the primary, and in particular his opposition to immunity for the telecom companies who enabled the Bush administration's flagrant law breaking. It's worth a read, if a depressing exercise. A taste, from December:
"Senator Obama unequivocally opposes giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies and has cosponsored Senator Dodd's efforts to remove that provision from the FISA bill. Granting such immunity undermines the constitutional protections Americans trust the Congress to protect. Senator Obama supports a filibuster of this bill, and strongly urges others to do the same."
Put even more strongly, from his own lips:
I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill.

Ever since 9/11, this Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand.

The FISA court works. The separation of power works. We can trace, track down and take out terrorists while ensuring that our actions are subject to vigorous oversight, and do not undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.

No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people -- not the President of the United States, and not the telecommunications companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program. We have to make clear the lines that cannot be crossed.

Indeed. There are lines that should not be crossed, and it was Obama's clear enunciation of that point which helped to win me over to his candidacy. I can't express how much I miss that guy already.

There's a reason the largest group on mybarackobama.com is made up of supporters pleading with him to stand firm to the principles he stated so strongly and so often during the primary season. Running to the center in a general is to be expected, abandoning core constitutional principles is not. If you're a supporter of Obama, I urge you to join this group. At over 14,000 nearly 17,000 members so far, the sheer numbers may make him see the light. Or at least see that his supporters cannot be taken for granted.

We expect him, indeed whomever is President, to do the right thing.

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