Why Obama’s FISA Vote Shouldn’t Disillusion You


By Joe Campbell
July 10th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]I agree with those such as Glenn Greenwald who are criticizing Obama over this issue. But my argument against those who have been disillusioned by this is several-fold:

  1. If you thought Obama was not a pragmatist who “attempts to find a rational common ground on controversial issues”, then you weren’t paying attention. Obama is not and has never been an ideologue – he is a mainstream politician.
  2. Obama promised to filibuster one provision which he still opposes, and voted against. He only changed the extent to which he would support opposition against it.
  3. The rhetoric about the “shredding of the Constitution” is over-the-top. The FISA bill – which Obama saw as flawed but better than the status quo, and which he never said he would oppose – strikes a balance between liberty and security. You can disagree with the balance – but to paint the issue as black-and-white is to misunderstand the issues in a basic sense. There are quite a number of issues which many of these same Obama supporters agree with that also would seem to violate core freedoms and the Constitution. For example, Obama supports gun control despite the right to bear arms; Obama supports campaign finance legislation despite it’s burdens on free speech; 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.
  4. Much of the disillusionment stems from a hope that many people had that Obama would somehow make things right and undo the Bush years. But Obama is not some messiah – he is a politician, a cautious and pragmatic one. The hope that I have is not that Obama will fix things himself – but that he will take steps to allow those concerned to engage with power. Obama will not himself be able to accomplish what a strong movement will – but he will be able to magnify the power of the movement as he takes steps to ensure government accountability. We are the change we are waiting for.
  5. Obama is just another politician. But he is an uncommonly good one, an uncommonly thoughtful one, and an unusually astute one. He is a candidate worth supporting – and one who can achieve some real change with our support.