In recent days, more than 7,000 Obama supporters have organized on a social networking site on Mr. Obama’s own campaign Web site. They are calling on Mr. Obama to reverse his decision to endorse legislation supported by President Bush to expand the government’s domestic spying powers while also providing legal protection to the telecommunication companies that worked with the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program after the Sept. 11 attacks. ~The New York Times
Of course, if Obama did reverse himself for a second time on the same issue, he would appear to be even more supine and susceptible to political pressure than he already does. It would be like his Jerusalem two-step (undivided, yet partitioned!)all over again, which could be used quite effectively to attack his judgement. Of all the recent reversals and maneuverings, the flip on FISA legislation is the most outrageous, because the policy he has now endorsed is one of the worst of the Bush administration, and it is the one that erases one of the few differences between him and McCain on matters of national security. What is probably equally troubling from the perspective of these Obama supporters is that it seems to confirm everything that his progressive critics said against Obama to be true: his talk of unity and the “post-partisan” persona were the pretexts for capitulation to their political opponents.
In this narrow sense, Ed Kilgore makes sense when he wonders what all the fuss has been about:
Third of all, it amazes me that anyone should be surprised by Barack Obama’s willingness on occasion to stray from Democratic Party orthodoxy or from strict down-the-line partisanship. It has been an important part of his political persona from day one. And those who accuse him of cynicism for expressing heretical thoughts on FISA or gun control or the death penalty now are perhaps the real cynics, who somehow thought he didn’t really mean all his early talk about transpartisan politics or overcoming the stale debates of past decades.
Some of us supposed that his talk of unity and bipartisan cooperation was sincere, which is why I thought it was terrible. As I said more than once, most of the great policy debacles of recent years have been bipartisan achievements of collaboration of the two parties against the rest of the country. Then again, that is what bipartisanship has always meant: yielding to the “centrist” consensus position, which tends to include a combination of the worst of both parties’ bad ideas. Far from “overcoming” stale debates, as Greenwald has observed, Obama has been embracing narratives that portray his own supporters and people like them as the problem.
As I have also been trying to stress for some time, the question is not whether Obama will stray from Democratic Party orthodoxy (he usually doesn’t, in fact), but whether he will ever take a position that would force him to confront powerful interests. Having won the nomination, he has probably calculated that his progressive backers will not break with him now and will have nowhere to go (the fear of electing McCain is too powerful for most of them to permit protest voting), so he has positioned himself to avoid confronting either executive power or corporate interests more than he must. He will not yield to his supporters’ demands on this, because I expect he does not see them as a threat to his political advancement, and he will be lauded by “mainstream” columnists for rebuffing the left and showing that he is “responsible” and, yes, “serious.”
P.S. Russ Feingold explains why the surveillance program itself is dangerous.
Update: Even Kos, not usually one to let important principles impede Democratic electoral success, gets it:
First, he reversed course and capitulated on FISA, not just turning back on the Constitution, but on the whole concept of “leadership”. Personally, I like to see presidents who 1) lead, and 2) uphold their promises to protect the Constitution.
It is interesting that some of those Obama supporters who screamed loudest that he must not “appease” the Clintons and thereby show weakness have been calm and unfazed, to put it mildly, by a real demonstration of weakness and surrender on an issue of fundamental constitutional protections. This seems to make anti-Clintonism into a high principle that must not be compromised, while constitutional liberty is something that can be infringed and abused to give a candidate some sort of “credibility” on national security. These are fairly odd priorities.