Obama to Support FISA Bill

Posted by Katherine | June 24, 2008 – 10:23 am

On Friday, Barack Obama declared that he supports the FISA bill wending its way through Congress. This is the bill that essentially allows the government more leeway to wiretap and gives the telecom companies immunity for handing records to the Bush administration. Many Democratic voters seem unhappy.

Erich Rauchway is a history professor somewhere out West. Back in February, he appears to have created a cynical Obama bumper sticker in response to comments on an earlier post about the “Yes We Can” video. On Friday, after Obama’s announcement, it came in handy again (thanks, Sue Salinger):

Obama bumper sticker
[Erich Rauchway / The Edge of the American West]

Jack M. Balkin, who teaches constitutional law at Yale, explains that Obama likes the FISA bill (though he won’t ‘fess up) because it would give him more power as president (hat tip again to Sue Salinger):

Barrack Obama plans to be the next President of the United States. Once he becomes President, he will be in the same position as George W. Bush: he wants all the power he needs to protect the country. Moreover, he will be the beneficiary of a Democratic-controlled Congress, and he wants to get some important legislation passed in his first two years in office.

Given these facts, why in the world would Obama oppose the current FISA compromise bill? If it’s done on Bush’s watch, he doesn’t have to worry about wasting political capital on it in the next year. Perhaps it gives a bit too much power to the executive. But he plans to be the executive, and he can institute internal checks within the Executive Branch that can keep it from violating civil liberties as he understands them. And not to put too fine a point on it, once he becomes president, he will likely see civil liberties issues from a different perspective anyway.

So, in short, from Obama’s perspective, what’s not to like?

Balkin also offers a very coherent summary of what the FISA bill actually says and means.

Writer and internet/business reporter Dana Blankenhorn makes a case for Obama’s decision. He says supporters shouldn’t “let perfection become the enemy of the good”:

The Netroots today finds itself in the same curious historical position as abolitionists did in 1860 and big government liberals did in 1932. We’re on the cusp of being given power but because we’ve defined ourselves in stark opposition we’re seen as extreme. There’s nothing extreme today about being anti-slavery or for debt financing, but there was then. As a result Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt worked hard to define themselves as brakes against this radicalism.

They weren’t. Not really. When push came to shove they delivered. But push did not come to shove before they were elected. It didn’t come to shove until after their inaugurations. […]

Instead of railing against their every disappointment with Barack Obama, the Netroots would be much better served, at this time, in laying out a detailed progressive agenda, in identifying academics and other experts who can turn that agenda into policy, and in seeing that these worthies are heard inside the Obama Administration.

Atheist Revolution isn’t so moderate. S/he supported Obama only after Kucinich and Edwards’s campaigns ended “because he stuck me as being the least progressive of the three.” For Atheist Revolution, this FISA “capitulation” confirms that belief:

The 105 Bush Democrats who voted on Friday to give immunity to Bush and the telecoms for illegally wiretapping American citizens (even before 9/11) are shredding the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. They must be hoping that their base will not find out or will not care. They could not be more wrong. […]

I had not wanted to count Obama among these Bush Democrats, but it could soon become impossible if he refuses to oppose the Bush/Hoyer capitulation. So if I cannot continue to support him, what then? Honestly, I am not sure yet. I sincerely hope Obama does the right thing. I guess we’ll see.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy is a retired Unitarian Universalist minister in South Carolina. She’s an ardent Clinton supporter who doesn’t seem to have warmed to Obama. Indeed she takes a certain delight in posting this email that a friend’s cousin (a dismayed Obama fan) sent to the Obama campaign:

I am writing to tell you personally that I will not vote in the general presidential election […] I intend to actively encourage everyone I know to sit out the 2008 presidential campaign and withhold their vote. […]

Sen. Obama has squandered a golden opportunity to explain why FISA in its present form is more than adequate to protect the nation from terrorism. He could have cleared up the obfuscation and misinformation being propagandized from the right. Sadly, Sen. Obama has chosen to forego honorable actions for political expediency.

Perhaps Sen. Obama has forgotten that Martin Luther King was a victim of illegal wiretapping by the FBI. Words cannot adequately express my disappointment in the position taken by your candidate. Actions, however, can.

Obama must be betting that most Democrats will think like Blankenhorn.


  1. One Response to “Obama to Support FISA Bill”

  2. Today an Obama adviser gave a pretty weak defense of the bill; audio’s there, too. Says the Inspector General will prevent abuses. Right.

    By MSB on Jun 24, 2008

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