By Joe Campbell
July 9th, 2008
Feelings are running high among us Obama supporters who also are strongly opposed to telecom immunity and the current FISA bill.
As the New York Times noted this weekend, the largest and most quickly growing group in Barack Obama’s social network was “Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right“. I had joined the group a few days before the article had come out because I, like many others, felt strongly about this issue. I still do. And I believe Barack Obama took the wrong position.
But what has astounded me in the past few days has been the overwrought emotionalism that – from my perspective – has caused many of Obama’s supporters to lose perspective on this issue. Here’s a sample of some of the sentiments that have been sent out to all of the members of the “Get FISA Right” group in the past few hours, since Obama voted in support of the bill:
“A dream died today!”
“Obama just lost my vote!!!”
“As we are about to throw out the 4th amendment shall we redefine the Bill of Rights as the first 9 amendments, or should we just leave a blank between 3 and 5 as the 13th floor is left out in high rise buildings.”
“I think we finally got to see the side of Obama we all deep down, thought was there. Another money grubbing lawyer going along with the pack; saying one thing doing another.”
“Please stop giving your hard earned money to this fraud!”
“Today, the Constitution will be shredded at the hands of Democrats and Barack Obama. I no longer believe that voting makes a difference. I am completely dispirited. Obama’s talk of change is a sham.”
“I find myself today looking for Ralph Nader’s campaign website.”
Perhaps more honest than these sentiments, one writer started with this caveat:
“At this very moment, this is how I FEEL. It does not mean it is how I will follow through, merely how I feel…”
He then unleashed a tirade. But at least he could see that he had lost some sense of perspective.
Glenn Greenwald, probably the foremost expert on this topic, one of the most influential opponents of this bill, who has been tirelessly pushing this issue through his blog and through guest appearances on radio shows was able to keep perspective when Obama first announced his turn-around on this issue:
There is no question, at least to me, that having Obama beat McCain is vitally important. But so, too, is the way that victory is achieved and what Obama advocates and espouses along the way.
The overheated rhetoric by these passionate supporters lends credence to the scoffing of the right-wingers who have insisted that Barack Obama’s support is weak because the young are naive and credulous and easily marginalized.
Truly – how many people supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel because of his position on telecom immunity? Far fewer than are now peevishly demanding refunds for their donations. This is an important issue – but it is far from the only issue.
Those of us who have been involved with politics before know that no matter how great the individual, you should never place your faith in a politician. A knowledge of history teaches us that every great person is still limited by their times. Abraham Lincoln – perhaps our greatest president – was vilified by the abolitionists of his day for being too pragmatic, for compromising too easily, for not sticking to his principles. In the end, Lincoln’s greatness came not from the fact that he stood on principle and defeated his adversaries – but that he skillfully managed our nation through a great crisis and took every opportunity he thought prudent to achieve the ends he sought. But it was the people and the battles that created the opportunities. Lincoln was only a great leader because during that long, hard war, we became a great people, willing to die for the fragile idea of freedom.
Barack Obama is not Abraham Lincoln, and we are not in a civil war. But we do face a very real crisis of identity and very real threats from at home and abroad. What we need to remember – as citizens – is that Obama is not and cannot be our savior. What Obama’s campaign has always been about is us. Unlike Hillary Clinton or John McCain or any other candidate, Obama’s campaign was about the movement that was supporting him. Which is why both Clinton’s and McCain’s campaigns have focused their attacks on Obama’s supporters as well as the candidate himself. For the past few weeks, McCain has been trying to put a wedge between Obama and his supporters – based on the theory that if he can paint Obama as “just another politician,” the youth vote that has been expected to throw the last few elections to the Democrats will forget to show up, again.
Obama is another politician. An uncommonly good one. An uncommonly thoughtful one. An unusually astute one. But like very person, and like every politician, he has made a mistake and voted for an awful bill.
I still support Obama. And so should you. Winning this election is not about Obama – but about the movement. If we do not become a great people, then neither Obama nor any other politician can become a great president.
Obama has spoken positively about how this movement should put pressure on him and every other politician to do the right thing – and with his campaign he has created and with his presidency he has promised to create more of the tools to do just that. No one will get every issue right – but the core reason to support Obama, as Lawrence Lessig has argued, is because he supports reforming the process to allow citizens to truly engage with power – by making the government more transparent and more accountable. He also happens to be on the right side of most of these issues – supporting increased transparency in Washington, restoring habeas corpus, ending our neo-empire in the Middle East, opposing wars of choice, net neutrality, and many other issues.
For those who have declared that the “dream” died today – stop dreaming about Barack Obama and start working to get our nation back on the right track. Electing Barack Obama is only the first step, as today’s events have proven.
I am disappointed in him. And I think criticism is warranted. But temper tantrums rarely do anyone any good.
This disappointment will not diminish one iota my determination to have Barack Obama elected the next President of the United States of America. This is our moment. Let’s not let momentary disappointment lead to a disengagement with politics.