Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Criticizing Obama -- (another) long post

A few weeks back, I wrote Glen Greenwald of, a fantastic writer of such unbelievable volume that I feel like a stoic next to him, that I was concerned that his constant criticism of Obama over his support of the new FISA bill could undermine Obama as the best of all possible candidates. I have a peeve about "one-issue" voters. My dad, for example, filters his decisions about which candidate will be more supportive of the medical community, since he's a surgeon. Many other voters don't care about anything except opposition to abortion, or support for unions. In other words, with the hundreds of very important issues that any presidential candidate must face, dismissing him/her over one particular issue is short-sighted. To me, it points to how stupid most American voters are, and I wrote Greenwald that I considered him to be above that.

In my email to Greenwald I also suggested that perhaps this phenomenon was "all politics is local" at work, but I worry that such a narrow view takes away from the whole candidate.

In his reply to me, Greenwald wrote:
I do think that preservation of the Constitution and adherence to the rule of law are prerequisites for other issues. Some people disagree -- lots of Italians didn't mind Mussolini's dictatorial inclinations because he made the trains run on time. That isn't how I think.

Well, of course he would reason this way -- he used to be a lawyer. I happen to agree with him.

When taking the oath of office, the president isn't swearing an oath to do anything except, "to the best of [his] ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." So perhaps it's ideal to filter one's decision about whom to elect through the oath of office. I'm sure most of us will agree that our current president has royally trashed the Constitution. Indeed, it's a big reason why most of us believe he will be judged as the worst US president in history.

So is calling Obama to task for his vote on the FISA bill -- one which he had earlier promised to filibuster -- undermining the candidate? Is it wrong to vilify the guy you think would make the better president? As citizens, surely we are obligated to criticize our government when we believe the government does not serve our interests. In allowing the FISA bill to pass, Obama accomplishes an important political objective: create the perception that Obama is serious about defending the country from terrorism. That is all it does, and that happens to be, unfortunately, a significant neocon talking point. So now, the Republicans are positively gleeful that Obama voted with them and helped them accomplish their agenda of preserving Bush's stranglehold on our civil liberties, and for essentially immunizing him of the felonies he committed three years ago.

I urge you to read Greenwald's long post today about this issue. Here's the kicker for me, the paragraph that has turned me into a critic of Obama and made me question his real commitment to "Change" that we can believe in (emphasis is mine):
These are just facts -- facts about Barack Obama, the FISA bill he supports and which the Democratic Congress will approve today. Recall that James Comey testified last year that what he and other DOJ officials learned in 2004 about Bush's spying activities for the several years prior was so extreme, so unconscionable, so patently illegal that they all -- including even John Ashcroft -- threatened to resign en masse unless it stopped immediately. We still have no idea what those spying activities were. We know, though, that even the right-wing DOJ ideologues who approved of the illegal "Terrorist Surveillance Programs" that we know about found those activities indisputably illegal and wrong. But Barack Obama and the Democratic-led Congress will today enact a bill to immunize all of that, to protect the lawbreakers who were responsible.
One of my friends -- a reader of this blog -- is a local precinct worker for Obama. He frequently writes me about his rage against Bush for his assault on the Constitution, including this tidbit:
The tragic, ridiculous extremes of decrepitude our Constitution has come to is a direct result of White House administrations in the recent past (namely Reagan) not being impeached over Iran-Contra. We failed then; we must not fail now. The Bush ad[ministration] is standing on President Reagan's shoulders. If We The People don't impeach over not just wiretapping, but the whole dizzying mountain of crimes perpetrated against the American people, the constitution and the international community (especially violations against the Geneva Convention), what might a future administration be able to do, standing on Bush's shoulders? I shudder to think. We are supposed to be the world's conscience; its great shining light. THIS MUST STOP, HERE AND NOW!

The rage is justified and righteous. How does he reconcile it, however, with Obama's fealty to Bush over the most egregious violation of our Constitution ever documented? In fact, if Obama were elected, he would have the very power to wiretap that he himself authorized as a Senator! What might his administration do, "standing on Bush's shoulders?"

Now that Obama has publicly stated his intent to support the FISA bill, he cannot now publicly oppose it without suffering a serious defeat in the press, ahead of the convention, ahead of the general election. His ONLY option at this point will be to press the Democratically-led Congress once he is elected to rework the FISA to strip away the most damaging parts of it (e.g., telcom immunity, unwarranted searches). If the Democrats can overcome a Republican filibuster (not to mention their own "blue dogs" who are closeted Republicans), that is.

I still believe that Obama is the only truly viable presidential candidate in this election. I believe that he will bring fresh perspective to the office by virtue of his upbringing alone. People around the world are eager to see him elected. People at home are eager to see him elected -- at least those with half a brain who don't care about lapel pins or his middle name. Others, among them readers of this blog, will vote for a lesser-qualified candidate out of fear that he will raise taxes and do little to nothing to combat illegal immigration. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I certainly have mine. But no matter who is elected, no one among us should refrain from criticizing anyone who does not keep his word. And in the matter of the FISA bill, Barack Obama is not keeping his word.

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