In DC we celebrate independence by crapping on the 4th Amendment
Some of these reversals are the expected policy tweaks that all presidential politicians make when they secure their party’s nomination. It’s common knowledge that our election system requires candidates to cater to their party’s base in the primaries and then move toward more centrist positions in preparation for the general election. Those of us who hold more progressive political opinions may not like this practice, but we understand that it’s a sometimes necessary action if we ever want to win an election. We understand why Obama wants to temper his rhetoric on something like gun control, but some reversals are simply too big to swallow. Obama's change of heart on recently debated FISA legislation is an example of such a reversal.
Salon's Glen Greenwald is doing a great job of keeping track of the developments in this story , which essentially boils down to:
- Obama used to think that the Protect America Act was a bad thing, particularly the parts of it that allowed the government to conduct surveillance of whoever it wanted, with little or no oversight. He thought this piece of legislation was so bad that he voted against it's original enactment, and had stated that he would filibuster any attempt to renew it.
- Obama now supports the Protect America act as the best deal the Democrats can get, even though they control both houses of congress and the current administration's policies in this arena are incredibly unpopular. One other important piece of information - if this legislation expires, the old FISA legislation becomes the applicable statute. This law was good enough to get the U.S. through the Cold War.
- Obama's campaign portrays this switch as a pragmatic piece of compromise that will ensure the protection of Americans from terrorists while portaying the candidate as 'tough on terror'.
This flip angers and frustrates me on so many different levels that it's hard to catalog how I feel about it. There's the familiar disappointment with a political leader revealing himself as a 'politician' and the feeling of being betrayed by a candidate I believed to be something new and different in politics. There's disgust at the rhetoric Obama is using, which steals heavily from the Republican party line. My biggest problem with Obama's FISA position is that he's stomping all over the 4th Amendment, ostensibly to win an election, and his actions are more likely to cause him to lose.
Republicans don't win on national defense because Democratic candidates have bad defense policies. Republicans win on security issues because Democrats will abandon their 'principles' at the first sign of conflict. Dukakis, Mondale, Kerry...the list of Democratic losers on the national stage is filled with politicians that sought to fit their ideas to what they thought the people wanted as soon as Republicans began to wave the patriotism banner around. I thought that Obama was different in this respect, and on a larger scale, he may still be; but his behavior with respect to the FISA debate makes me think that the same mindset that tanked previous campaigns is at work here.
I can't understand why Obama is reversing his ground on this. The same forces that allowed Democrats to suddenly find their collective spine and win congressional elections in 2006 are still at work, and may even be stronger. Aren't independents and 'centrist' voters ready to hear that the Bush doctrines that stated, "you can have individual freedoms or safety, but not both!" are wrong? I think so. I used to believe that Obama thougt that too. For those keeping track, this is exhibit 786 in the case for me not being very smart.
John Kerry came out of his primary campaign with the same kinds of polling leads Obama is currently enjoying over John McCain. Then he started to adjust his positions to make himself more palatable to voters. He ended up looking like a slightly more craggy version of Michael Dukakis, milquetoast and without conviction. It's early in the election, and maybe I'm just feeling a little bit of buyers remorse, but I don't think so.
I have a suspicion that the McCain campaign has been watching this all unfold with a sense of expectant glee. They're all going to sit down to a campaign meeting the morning after the FISA bill passes, and they're going to be all smiles. A senior aid is going to turn to McCain with a look of smug satisfaction and say, "See John? I told you that they'd make the same mistake." And then they're going to dust off and pass around the same play book that Republicans have been using to win national elections for 30 years. "Please turn to Chapter 1: Reinforcing your opponent's image as a waffling pussy."