Baseball Crank
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.

Well, anyone who was observing this campaign to find out whether Obama has credibility when he draws that kind of line now has their answer: he folds like a cheap suit:

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.

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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.

UnderTheBus.jpgThe 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.

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.

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!

Motorpool Guy: Where?

Fletcher: [indicating with his hands] Right there!

Motorpool Guy: OH... That was already there.

Fletcher: You - -LIAR! You know what I am going to do about this?

Motorpool Guy: what?

Fletcher: Nothing! Because if I take it to small claims court, it will just drain 8 hours out of my life and you probably won't show up and even if I got the judgment you'd just stiff me anyway; so what I am going to do is piss and moan like an impotent jerk, and then bend over and take it up the tailpipe!

Motorpool Guy: [tossing the keys to Fletcher] You've been here before haven't ya?

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.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:18 PM | Politics 2008 • | War 2007-12 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

For a change, I can't argue with you on this one (while still acknowledging that you're a supporter of FISA).

Obama did, indeed, fold like a cheap (albeit well-pressed, nicely-tailored) suit.

Posted by: Mike at June 20, 2008 7:08 PM

Oh yeah. I want this guy sitting across a negotiating table from Vladimir Putin.

Posted by: Jerry at June 20, 2008 7:16 PM

In Obama's answer, he also says this:

"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."

That seems consistent with his prior position.

Posted by: MVH at June 20, 2008 8:54 PM

I'll take a little triangulation if it means no more incompetent Republicans in charge. And like Crank, I have no problem with this legislation. What would these people sue for anyway? Did the phone company listen in on their calls and blackmail them or something? No -- I assume our dumbass president told them they had to do it, and his dumbass legal team told them they had to do it. So they caved. What would you do if you were CEO of the phone companies? Of course a more competent president would have made sure the i's were dotted and the t's were crossed before taking such broad measures. But that's beside the point.

For good discussion on what measures Congress should take in a post-Sept 11 environment, see Judge Richard Posner. As long as the information remains de-identified, I think we should be looking at more, not less.

Posted by: Patrick at June 21, 2008 11:21 AM

I am so enjoying watching the few red staters left go into Obama Derangement Syndrome. Really, this is fun guys.

Posted by: Magrooder at June 21, 2008 11:32 PM

Yeah, Obama did a signing statement, not unlike W. Of course, McCain flipped a time or two on this as well. Compromise in the Senate is the way things work, which is why so few Senators actually make it to be President.

Posted by: AstrosFan at June 22, 2008 7:16 PM

I think his official response was "That's not the FISA bill I knew...."

Posted by: chris at June 24, 2008 11:59 PM
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