As I posted previously – there has been a lot of anger by a significant subset of Obama supporters at his reversal on how he would oppose the telecom immunity provision in the FISA bill.
As part of the group that is the center of much of this protest – “Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right“ – I have had a front-row seat to observe the raw feelings of the most disappointed supporters. I argued in my previous post that many of these supporters had lost perspective – as they abandoned Obama over a position that was a rather minor element in his campaign.
But one thing my response missed – and most of the angry Obama supporters missed – is precisely what Obama changed his mind about.
Obama – through a spokesperson – had promised to support a filibuster of any law that would give the telecommunications companies immunity from civil liability for their actions relating to the warrantless wiretapping program:
To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies
Throughout his campaign, this promise was reiterated.
In February, Obama voted to strip away the provision that gave the telecoms immunity from the FISA bill – but the amendment failed to garner sufficient votes to override a presidential veto.
As the FISA bill came up for a vote this July, Obama announced that he had changed his mind about the degree to which he would oppose telecom immunity. Yesterday, he voted for an amendment that would strip the immunity provisions from the FISA bill, but voted to pass the bill even though the amendment failed to get the required support.
In other words, while he still agrees with the position that the telecom companies should not get immunity, he has made a tactical decision that the costs of opposing the full measure were not worth the benefits.
Many who have expressed disagreement with Obama have talked about how he has changed his mind about defending the Constitution, how he is now agreeing to eviserate the Fourth Amendment, etcetera and so on. They argue against the full FISA law itself – as well as the telecom immunity provision. But although Obama has said that he sees the law as flawed, he did not commit himself to opposing it.
Most of those who are disillusioned by Obama’s vote don’t seem be interested in the subtlties. They speak in terms of betrayal, in terms of being with-us-or-against-us, and they judge Obama harshly by an ideological purity scale. But if any of these people had evaluated Obama seriously before – they would have seen that he was not the ideological purist they claim he was.
As Gail Collins put it in an insightful column today (an unusual event for her):
But if you look at the political fights he’s picked throughout his political career, the main theme is not any ideology. It’s that he hates stupidity. “I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war,” he said in 2002 in his big speech against the invasion of Iraq. He did not, you will notice, say he was against unilateral military action or pre-emptive attacks or nation-building. He was antidumb.
Most of the things Obama’s taken heat for saying this summer fall into these two familiar patterns — attempts to find a rational common ground on controversial issues and dumb-avoidance.
On the common-ground front, he’s called for giving more federal money to religious groups that run social programs, but only if the services they offer are secular. People can have guns for hunting and protection, but we should crack down on unscrupulous gun sellers. Putting some restrictions on the government’s ability to wiretap is better than nothing, even though he would rather have gone further.
Dumb-avoidance would include his opposing the gas-tax holiday, backtracking on the anti-Nafta pandering he did during the primary and acknowledging that if one is planning to go all the way to Iraq to talk to the generals, one should actually pay attention to what the generals say.
Touching both bases are Obama’s positions that 1) if people are going to ask him every day why he’s not wearing a flag pin, it’s easier to just wear the pin, for heaven’s sake, and 2) there’s nothing to be gained by getting into a fight over whether the death penalty can be imposed on child rapists.
I’ll take this opportunity to point out that Collins is misleading about how she uses the death penalty example as Obama indicated he was in favor of the death penalty for child rapists before the recent Supreme Court decision in The Audacity of Hope.
But her basic point is right.