Thomas Paine:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Obama's "Change" Offers No Hope for Civil Liberty

His new position on FISA, in effect: as long as we are safe, we don’t need to be free.

      Yesterday, June 28, Barack Obama spoke before the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. Referring to the immigration issue, Obama made the point that McCain “deserves credit” for the work he did alongside Obama on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform. There was a problem, however, according to the Democratic candidate: “When he [McCain] was running for his party’s nomination, he walked away from that commitment. He said he wouldn’t even support his own legislation, if it came up for a vote. Now, if we’re going to solve the challenges we face, we can’t vacillate; we can’t shift, depending on our politics. You need a president who will pursue genuine solutions, day in and day out, in a consistent way. And that’s my commitment to you.”

      Beautiful. Apparently unhampered by self-examination, he stood there, making a promise not to vacillate, not to shift, but instead to be consistent with his commitments—this, while my built-in crap detector clanged over the contrast between what he had just said and the fact of his newly adjusted position on telecom immunity.
      I guess we were supposed to forget his previous position on telecom immunity, his earlier stated commitment to the rule of law, as well as the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. To wit:

Then:—Barack Obama, February 26, 2008: “The American people must be able to trust that their president values principle over politics, and justice over unchecked power. I’ve been proud to stand with Senator Dodd in his fight against retroactive immunity for the telecommunications industry. Secrecy and special interests must not trump accountability. We must show our citizens – and set an example to the world – that laws cannot be ignored when it is inconvenient. Because in America – no one is above the law.”

Now: Barack Obama, June 26, 2008: “...the issue of the phone companies, per se, is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people.”

      That was in answer to the question as to why he was going to support the FISA bill that will be voted on in the Senate after the July 4th holiday, the bill that grants retroactive immunity to the telecoms.
      So, sometimes it is okay to vacillate? Sometimes it’s okay to shift your commitment?
      Certainly, when it comes to one challenge, the one where he expressed, in January and February, a strong commitment to the ability of the American people to “trust their president to value principle over politics” and justice over “unchecked power,” then it’s perfectly okay to turn tail and make a beeline for political expediency.
      The challenge of the rule of law, and the basic civil liberties of the American people, is not important; it does not override security. Hello? As long as we are “safe,” we don’t need to be free?
      So what else is new? Did you expect a politician to stick to his stated principles?

      It is interesting to watch the struggles with cognitive dissonance now being experienced by the Obama faithful—poor Keith Olbermann, for one. He thinks everything’s going to be okay, since John Dean said the bill didn’t preclude prosecution of telecom companies by the Justice Department, after Bush leaves office. Obama has a secret plan...
      Oh brother.
      Plus, Olbermann thinks Obama did himself proud by not “cowering to” the Left, a retreat from Olbermann’s own powerful statements against granting telecom immunity. As if the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the rule of law were left-wing issues and not values all Americans should hold dear. No. What we’re seeing is how people go into denial to be able to accept the shameful behavior of someone they wish desperately to admire.
      C’mon, Obama has not done himself proud, and neither has Olbermann, for that matter; after all, to betray one’s own principles is about as shameful thing a person can do.

      Whatever protections for our civil liberties are granted in the FISA bill, they become meaningless, as long as telecom immunity is granted as well. After all, the original FISA legislation had those protections, but the Bush Administration ignored them, with the help of the telecom companies. The bottom line is that the telecom companies broke the law; to grant them immunity from civil suits now is an invitation to this lawless administration, and the next, to ignore the law again. WHAT CONSEQUENCES FOR LAW-BREAKING DOES AN ADMINISTRATION FACE, IF CONGRESS GRANTS IMMUNITY TO LAWBREAKERS? The message becomes this: as long as the government gives a company a piece of paper, with instructions to break the law, warrantless spying on Americans can go on as before. Congress will always grant immunity.
      Wishing and waiting for prosecutions by the Justice Department is naive, a self-delusion. It won’t happen. It’s a “war on terror” without end; we can kiss our civil liberty good-bye, without hope for its return, ever.
      To vote for this FISA bill, with immunity granted, is a betrayal of the American people. And I am far more threatened by lawless executive and legislative branches of our government than by al queda, by far.
      I doubt Obama would abandon his corporate friends or the ruling class once in the White House. It would not fit his pattern: when courting the Democratic electorate for his Party’s nomination, he spoke like a civil libertarian; once secure as the nominee, he abandoned the civil liberty stance and caved to the fear factor. This is not behavior that deserves an optimistic, hopeful, trusting response from us. It is "change," alright, but not change I can believe in.


UPDATE: My comment to Keith Olbermann's Special Comment of June 30th: Sorry, there's a problem with Keith's logic: Obama's voting against the FISA bill would not preclude his also prosecuting the criminals, once he gets into office. We should have both—civil AND criminal litigation.

There's NO excuse whatsoever for Obama to vote for the bill, and no solace whatsoever in the distant and doubtful promise of Obama-presidency prosecutions. And who is to say Obama is going to win the presidency, anyway? Think about the fix we'll be in then, when McCain is in office, and we don't even have the option of civil litigations!

Tonight's Special Comment failed—too much bending over backward to make an Obama betrayal of the Constitution and the rule of law okay. It's not okay. Civil litigations are how ordinary people hold corporations and the government accountable. For the Federal government to remove them as an option is a hideous act of betrayal against one democratic means of redress.

Shame on Obama, if he doesn't vote against the bill; shame on Keith Olbermann for making excuses for him.


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