Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 20, 2008
WAR/POLITICS: Obama Retreats On FISA
I asked yesterday how Barack Obama, who opposed the FISA bill last time it came around and specifically opposed the telecom immunity provisions, would handle the compromise by which nearly the same bill has now passed the House and will return to the Senate with sufficient votes to pass. You will recall the emphatic nature of Obama's statement in opposition:
I strongly oppose retroactive immunity in the FISA bill.... No one should get a free pass to violate the basic civil liberties of the American people - not the President of the United States, and not the telecommunications companies that fell in line with his warrantless surveillance program. We have to make clear the lines that cannot be crossed.
Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the American people. ... After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act.
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, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives - and the liberty - of the American people.
The left-wingers who supported Obama and thought he would actually take a stand rather than issue some empty words have now joined that crowd under the Obama bus. Welcome to the general election, folks. Hope you didn't actually believe that "Hope" and "Change" meant a new and different kind of candidate. Obama may be just as left-wing as you are - by all indications, he is - and just as immune to understanding the way the world works, but he does know how to read polls, and he doesn't have much experience standing his ground under fire. So, while his statement pretty much admits that his "lines that cannot be crossed" have in fact been crossed, he's just not going to do anything about it:
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.
Obama leaves open the suggestioin that he might try to alter the bill before it reaches the President's desk:
[The bill] 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.
Of course, if he means he will do that now, that would bust up the compromise and get us back to square one - and there are already enough Senators on board with telecom immunity that no such thing will happen unless Obama uses the influence of his position as head of his party to bend the Democratic caucus to his will (another thing he has no record of ever doing). You know and I know that if he starts off from a position of saying he "support[s] the compromise," that's not gonna happen. It's a hollow threat.
If Obama means that when he gets elected he'll restore the ability to sue the telecom companies, well, he is probably relying on Hope that his supporters don't know that it would be an unconstitutional violation of separation of powers to reopen what will by then be final judgments.
So at the end of the day, when Obama says that a line can't be crossed, and it then gets crossed, how can we summarize his response? I think Jim Carrey's character in Liar, Liar summarized it well:
Fletcher: You scratched my car!
Today, Obama's spinelessness is in service of our national security, so I applaud it. Let's just hope we never see the day when his spine is what we depend on to protect our security.