[digg-reddit-me]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.
15 replies on “Why I Am Still Supporting Barack Obama After His Vote For Telecom Immunity”
Who are you to decide what the proper “perspective” from which to view Obama’s support of telecom immunity? From your perspective, he made a mistake, but that’s okay. From someone else’s perspective, he has betrayed their trust by saying one thing and doing another. From yet another perspective, what’s important is not simply that he went back on his word, but that he supported a measure that violates the Constitution, that violates American’s right to privacy, that allows surveillance without a warrant that establishes probable cause, that permits corporations to violate a law put into place specifically to combat the dangers of abuses of governmental power. From what perspective is such unamerican thinking acceptable in a presidential candidate? The only answer is that any alternative would be worse than Obama, and that’s true. But don’t be deceived that the feeling that “the dream has died” is an overreaction. It is a just and proper reaction when learning that a candidate in whom you believed has revealed himself to be something other than what you thought.
I’m not “deciding” what the proper perspective is. I’m just pointing out that the overwrought reactions are lacking perspective – and then providing my own perspective.
And the problem with saying that “the dream has died” is that would mean your dream was about what Obama would do instead of what the movement will do. Your “dream” might have been that Obama would fix everything. But if that was your dream, then you are naive as the Clinton supporters and McCain supporters have said. Obama is a politician who will compromise – as he has proved throughout his career. That’s how things get done. What Obama has also proved is that he will listen to the opposing side, even if he doesn’t agree and that he will create the mechanisms to allow anyone who wants to engage with power.
I personally have no time for purists on any issue or slate of issues. I agree that Obama has showed his character today – as he has every other day in this long campaign. It is disappointing that he did not take a quixotic stand against this bill. But to judge him purely on this is to lose perspective.
“…your dream was about what Obama would do instead of what the movement will do. ”
First, you don’t elect a “movement” to the office of President of the United States, you elect an individual. So, yes, my dream was about what this candidate would do. Second, what “movement” are you talking about? The Democratic Party? Since their victory in 2006, elected Democrats have shown themselves to be spineless and ineffectual at best, and conniving collusionists at worst. They were elected to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, but chose, instead, to view their role as getting “important” bills passed, while making certain that they would get Democrats elected in 2008. That’s what the Republican Party did, too. They’re as bad as Republicans, just in different ways. There are a few individuals who are true statesmen, such as Russ Feingold, et al. But the majority are weak, and pass laws that violate the Constitution.
“Your “dream” might have been that Obama would fix everything.”
Certainly not. My “dream” was that Obama would live up to his word. He said he would filibuster any bill that offered immunity to telecom companies that violated the law. Then he reversed himself and caved, for political reasons. There’s no amount of lipstick you can put on that pig to make it kissable.
The movement I am referring to is not “the Democratic Party” but the grassroots surge of interest, money, and activism that coalesced around Barack Obama. As an offshoot of this moment – or a similar and related movement – I would point to Ron Paul’s supporters..
This FISA moment has been created by this movement.
Barack Obama is a mainstream politician who is willing to give this movement a significant influence over his campaign and policies. That does not translate into the movement or some portion of the movement dictating positions.
There is no doubt that Obama changed his position. You believe it was for political reasons. Obama has articulated a different explanation.
The language you use strikes me as disappointingly similar to the “with-us-or-against-us” rhetoric of another major recent political figure. I don’t believe in purity tests for anyone – especially when the policies at issue require a careful balancing.
That is why Obama supports gun control despite the right to bear arms; that is why Obama supports campaign finance legislation despite it’s burdens on free speech; that is why Obama supports a national education policy despite the tenth amendment. All of these require a balance between liberty and the Constitution on one hand and progressive goals on the other. In a similar way, the FISA debate is the balance between the fourth amendment on one hand and national security on the other. We can disagree where that line should be drawn – but the rhetoric of both the right and left ignores the FACT that neither side is taking a pure stand. Both are arguing for a particular balance.
What I think is clear is that the right’s position is more extreme. Obama – for whatever reason – thought that passing this bill was better than taking a stand against it at this point. You and I disagree.
“[Democrats are] as bad as Republicans, just in different ways.”
No – they’re not.
I suppose it’s true that politicians must compromise to accomplish anything. However, I don’t view the FISA bill as a compromise. The bill was exactly what the lawbreakers wanted. If you prefer to think it was compromise and not capitulation, is it wise to meet criminal behavior halfway?
“I don’t believe in purity tests for anyone – especially when the policies at issue require a careful balancing.:”
How about this as a purity test:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Do you think that “careful balancing” can include abrogations of this oath?
to Jack –
What part of the FISA bill violates the Constitution?
to K Larson –
I think the FISA bill was a capitulation in that the administration got what it wanted. it was a compromise in that certain controls that the Democrats felt were important were incorporated into the bill. it was a compromise – but a bad compromise in that the administration was not forced to give up anything it wanted.
The Constitution, Article I, Section 9; Clause 3 states: “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.”
Black’s Law defines “ex post facto Laws” as: “A law passed after the occurrence of a fact or commission of an act which retrospectively changes the legal consequences or relation of such fact or deed.”
To make legal, and there for immune from civil prosecution, acts that were illegal at the time they were committed is an “ex post facto law.” Such is contained in the new FISA bill and is a direct violation of a clear provision in the Constitution of The United States.
All of the Representatives and Senators who voted for this bill had taken an oath that begins:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; ….”
A congressperson who votes for a bill that violates Article I, Section 9; Clause 3’s provision betrays “true faith” to the Constitution and would therefore qualify as a domestic enemy of it.
Further, the new FISA bill violates the 4th Amendment to The Constitution of The United States, as well. The 4th Amendment states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
This means that communications of citizens cannot be violated unless “probable cause” of a criminal act has been demonstrated enough to satisfy a judge, who then issues a warrant, and the warrant is for a specific search, naming the “persons or things to be seized.” The new FISA bill allows for vast amounts of data to be surveilled by the government, i.e., not specific data, and this can happen without a warrant having been issued by a judge. That grants the government powers that the framers of the Constitution clearly did not want it to have, and they included the 4th Amendment in order to insure against it. The new FISA bill directly contravenes the 4th Amendment.
Once again, to have voted for such a law is a clear and direct violation of one of the most important protections in the Constitution. Those congresspeople who voted for it should be removed from office. The only thing more serious that an elected representative could do to harm the United States would be to engage in actual treason. To undermine the Constitution is extremely serious an offense. We tend to think it’s a betrayal when a congressperson gets caught in a sexual peccadillo, or is found to have been unduly influence financially by lobbyists. Such acts pale in comparison to abrogations of the Constitution.
“No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed” only deals with criminal law – not civil.
As for the violations of the Fourth Amendment, according to the law itself:
This, of course, does not guarantee that this provision in the law will be followed. The biggest issue in the bill is that it does not ensure sufficient safeguards to ensure that the law will be followed.
There is – within the bill – a requirement for judicial review. The bill limits itself – specifically, and within it’s language – to follow the Fourth Amendment.
The bill only applies to the surveillance in setting up procedures for these items:
Again – the problem is that the bill does not take sufficient steps to prevent abuse – that is to say, the use of the bill to spy on United States persons within the United States. As much of the world’s telecommunications pass through the United States, US companies will be asked to give over information – which, according to the bill – will be targeting the three above groups.
Another problem with the bill is that it grants judges more time to review the requests than the 1978 law did. This is a problem because the government is allowed to collect information while the request is reviewed by the FISA court – so, again, this provision could be abused.
This bill does not allow data regarding United States persons to be surveilled without a warrant having been issued – except as mentioned in the case directly above. And it only allows United States persons to be surveilled in their international communications.
There are serious issues with the bill – specifically with the provisions regarding the surveillance of those outside the United States (and not protected by the Fourth Amendment.) In order to surveil these targets, the government does not need a specific warrant – only a certification from the FISA court regarding it’s “minimization procedures” to ensure that United States persons at home and abroad are not being surveilled.
It is here that a significant amount of abuse could occur. And it is based on this that the ACLU is challenging the constitutionality of the law. But it is far from obvious that the law is “directly contravening” the Constitution.
The fact that the law has insufficient safeguards is a very real issue. And I agree that it should not have been passed. But I think that you – and others – who use such language about the constitutionality of the law so cavalierly, should be more realistic in your language.
A strong case is being made that the law is unconstitutional. But the case is not unambiguous.
Finally – a person who votes for a bill that is unconstitutional is not “a domestic enemy of [the Constitution].” That would make any congressperson who voted for the DC gun ban a “domestic enemy” – as well as those who voted for campaign finance legislation and the Military Commissions Act.
““No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed” only deals with criminal law – not civil.
This clause, like the cognate restriction imposed on the Federal Government by § 9, relates only to penal and criminal legislation and not to civil laws that affect private rights adversely.
Just because the Supreme Court has determined that the clause doesn’t apply to “civil laws that affect private rights adversely” doesn’t mean anything. The clause states that “No . . . ex post facto Law shall be passed”. It could literally not be more clear. The clause does not distinguish between criminal laws and civil laws.
And at the time the offenses were committed by the telecoms, what they did was not a civil but a criminal act. For politicians to grant retroactive immunity from prosecution is the type of croneyism seen in banana republics.
Can you not see that when someone swears to uphold the Constitution, the purpose of which document is to protect the liberty of the individual people of the United States, there is to be no “. . . balance between liberty and the Constitution on one hand and progressive goals on the other”? If the “progressive goals” in any way diminish the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution for the United States, then those goals are wrong for this nation. They might be appropriate in other countries, where the people are not sovereign as we are, where pragmatic concerns outweigh the noble ideals of freedom and justice. But not here.
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