Categories
Election 2008 National Security Obama Politics

Why Obama’s FISA Vote Shouldn’t Disillusion You

[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.
Categories
Domestic issues Election 2008 McCain National Security Obama Politics Reflections The War on Terrorism

Why I Am Still Supporting Barack Obama After His Vote For Telecom Immunity

[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.

Categories
Election 2008 Law Liberalism National Security Obama

Obama’s critics

After criticizing the Obama critics in my past few posts, let me point to a recent critic of Obama’s moves whose recent criticisms I largely endorse – Glenn Greenwald.

His most recent post criticizing certain people defending Obama was right on.

He makes sure to strike a reasonable balance between criticizing Obama and comparing him to the alternative:

I’ve written endlessly on all of the reasons why a John McCain presidency would be disastrous for this country. The entire last chapter of my book is devoted exclusively to documenting that fact. I have no doubt I will write much more on that topic between now and November. I still think that just as strongly. But basic honesty and adherence to one’s core political values compels criticism for what Obama is doing here, and it’s just distasteful and destructive – not to mention dangerous – for people to invoke patently false rationalizations in order to excuse or support what he’s doing.

Amen.

I do tend to think that Greenwald overstates the damage to the core principles of America that this current compromise will do:

…another nail in the coffin of Fourth Amendment protections and privacy rights…

…eroding core constitutional liberties…

…a grave assault on the Constitution…

All of these are true to a degree.  But – as a post I am working on now will illustrate – I think laws like this are as much an opportunity as a danger.

Categories
Criticism Election 2008 McCain Politics

Where did the real Glenn Greenwald Go?

Glenn Greenwald has been one of the best – and most influential – voices in the blogosphere. Every day he writes an incisive piece exploring some hypocrisy within the Republican establishment and/or the press. He has been one of the few voices keeping alive such vitally relevant stories as the Pentagon propaganda scandal, the US attorney firings scandal, the many torture scandals, and the general media acquiescence to telling their stories on terms set by the Right. Greenwald’s writing does have a particular sense of continuous outrage that becomes off-putting. As serious as the issues we face are, outrage can become wearing. Despite this stylistic critique, I have found Greenwald to be one of the most insightful commentators on our current politics.

But since Glenn Greenwald has gotten back from his book tour, his writing has seemed off. Take these three lines from three of his latest blog entries:

They’re as transparent as they are dishonest and bloodthirsty.

The central truth of the 2008 election is that, with the exception of a few relatively inconsequential and symbolic matters, John McCain enthusiastically embraces the Bush/Cheney worldview in every way that matters.

John McCain is the ultimate embodiment of America’s hoary, Vietnam era “stabbed-in-the-back” myth. We should fight wars with massive bombing campaigns and unleashed force, unconstrained by excessive concerns over “collateral damage” and unimpeded by domestic questioning. That’s how we could have (and should have) “won” in Vietnam and how we’ll “win” in Iraq. That’s why the central truth of the 2008 election is that, when it comes to foreign policy, the Kristol/Lieberman-supported John McCain is a carbon copy of the Bush/Cheney warmongering mentality except that he’s actually more extreme about its core premises.

With all of these, I agree with the basic points Greenwald is making – but he veers into the territory of unconvincing polemicism instead of the more nuanced yet strongly worded critiques that are his best.  For me, even worse are the topical errors he has made.

In today’s piece about McCain embracing the “stabbed-in-the-back” narrative about Vietnam, Greenwald has to retract one of the more damning insinuations he makes – that McCain cares nothing for civilian casualties in war.

In another piece last week, Greenwald wrote about “The right’s selective political manipulation of Catholicism.”  But instead of taking the arguments of his opponents seriously, he – whether through laziness or misunderstanding – simply ignores their points.  Kathyrn Jean Lopez of the National Review is an extremely lazy thinker who Greenwald should be able to defeat handily in a blog-battle.  Yet Greenwald’s response to Lopez ends up being wildly off the mark.  He tries to attack her for hypocrisy for saying she wants to protect innocent human life while supporting Republicans.  Republicans have started a war that has cost over a million lives, Greenwald rightly points out.  What he fails to acknowledge is that Lopez would point to the hundreds of millions of “innocent lives” lost to abortion as a countervailing force.

She can – and should – still be taken to task for hypocrisy.  Andrew Sullivan has been especially effective on this front.  But Greenwald ended up seeming like a petty hack.

I know he’s better than that which is why I’m disappointed.

I have hope though that after some time to recuperate, the real Greenwald will be back.

Categories
Law Politics The War on Terrorism

Yoo are too Clever by a Half

[reddit-me]Dahlia Lithwick, one of my favorite writers, proves that she sees the dangerous precedent set by John Yoo and the current administration:1

The Bush administration has proven time and again that the Rule of Law is only as definitive as its most inventive lawyers.

I’ve been watching a lot of Westerns recently – El Dorado, 3:10 to Yuma (the new version), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Man From Laramie, Winchester ’73. The older of these movies that defined masculinity during the Golden Age of Gender Roles in the 1950s – “the strong, silent type” as Tony Soprano memorably described it, echoing many before him. What these movies are about – at their core and often explicitly – is how the Rule of Law came to the West. It was not always brought through the most ideal means. Often the honorable brigands and hired guns helped the sheriff establish civilization. But it came – and it was fought for – and men and women died so that the Rule of Law might be brought to their small towns, and many died for the lack of it.

Now today, right wing radio talk show hosts from Dennis Miller to Steve Malzberg talk about the Rule of Law as if it were a sissification, as if it were a feminine value, as if it made a civilization weak. They – and those in power – who dodged and pulled strings to avoid military service (another mark against their purported standard of masculinity) malign those who have stood up for the rule of law2 – from John Kerry to Max Cleeland – as cowards and traitors and “girly men”.

As I’ve argued before – it is astounding that those who advocate the preemptive surrender of American values in the face of terrorism have been able to portray those who stand for the Rule of Law as effete snobs who want to surrender to terrorists. Yet based on the standard of masculinity that many of these “conservatives” regularly invoke – the 1950s man, the cowboy – they are failures. The cowboys in these old Westerns – these brigands and thieves and hired guns and sheriffs – fought to bring the Rule of Law to the Wild West. The movies are often bittersweet, as the world in which these men thrived – a lawless and vicious yet exciting and new wasteland – is “civilized” and they are made obsolete. But these men – and they are all men in these Westerns – still fight for justice, which is held to be brought about only by the Rule of Law.

What John Yoo and the Bush administration suggest, without saying outright, is that the Rule of Law – the concept that all individuals are equal before the law – is obsolete and dangerous. They believe that the Rule of Law does not need to be upheld when government officials are trying to deal with terrorism. Therefore, telecommunication companies that broke the law should be immunized; CIA officers who have tortured individuals should not be held accountable; neither the president nor his lawyers nor his advisors nor the Secretary of the Defense should be forced to follow the law or to face consequences if they do not. The overwhelming, overriding impulse must be to take any measure necessary to prevent terrorism – even if there is only a 1% chance of an attack, it must be treated as if it were certain, and it must be prevented by any means necessary. 3 This is a prescription for tyranny. 4 But perhaps worse from the perspective of those “conservatives” who like to dress up their president as a cowboy or Air Force pilot, it is cowardly.

  1. This particular post has actually appeared on the site several times before in the past week due to errors on my part. This is the definitive version. []
  2. And often did serve. []
  3. Though this sounds like an exaggeration, it is precisely what Vice President Dick Cheney articulated and it is what that Ron Suskind demonstrated has informed administration policy since September 11. []
  4. Let me be clear – I do not believe we are there. But I think this clearly is the danger we face. The difference between a liberal democracy and a tyranny is the Rule of Law. []