Friday, June 20, 2008

Worse than I expected

Yesterday I wrote that while I hoped Barack Obama would come out against the FISA "compromise" legislation, I didn't think he would do it. Well today he made a statement on the bill's passage in the House and boy did he not do it. It was enough to earn Atrios' "Wanker of the Day", for I believe for the first time ever, and deservedly so.

By way of throwing a bone to his anti-illegal spying base, he acknowledges the obvious:
"There is... little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders."
Then he moves on to previous positions he's taken that we agree with:
"That is why last year I opposed the so-called Protect America Act, which expanded the surveillance powers of the government without sufficient independent oversight to protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent Americans. I have also opposed the granting of retroactive immunity to those who were allegedly complicit in acts of illegal spying in the past."
Operative phrase: "in the past." But if he supports today's bill, it must have some pretty great stuff in it:
"Under this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct surveillance - making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people."
The thing is, though, that FISA doesn't really need "restoration" as the exclusive means to conduct (electronic) surveillance. It has this thing in it called an "exclusivity provision," so it kind of came pre-restored. And to just about everybody outside the Bush administration, and a goodly number of people in it, including his Attorney General, it was already pretty clear that the president can't "circumvent" it.

It's time to break the news:
"It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses."
Hmmm... Wouldn't a good way of seeking full accountability for past offenses be to oppose any legislation that grants retroactive immunity? I mean that may be a little inside the box, butI think there's something to it.

Anyway as I said I didn't expect him to take a stand against the bill, so I shouldn't act all shocked, but right at the end the statement takes a hard turn from the ineffectual to the pernicious:
"It is not all that I would want. But given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise..."
Emphasis mine, because it's so awful. The problem, of course, is not that he believes we face legitimate threats. It's that everyone believes we face legitimate threats! After claiming to share the very concerns of the people who oppose the bill, he turns around and depicts the debate over it as being between terrorism believers and terrorism skeptics, with the latter endangering America.

So yeah, wankery indeed. I'm setting pretty modest expectations here, Barack. I sure hope the estimates for political courage don't need to be revised further downward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is disappointing news. Thanks for keepin' us alert. It is all to easy to get caught up in a charmer. It is good to be reminded to keep a little healthy skepticism around. Politics, oye. David Brooks has some interesting thoughts on old "fast Eddie Obama." If you haven't yet check it out.

I'm not loosing faith (I need it too much right now), but like I said ... politics ...