Obama, FISA, and the Blogosphere

Obama’s support for the FISA compromise, which I commented on yesterday, remains a hot topic in the blogosphere. Glenn Greenwold has summarized the issues well. The retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies seems to be getting the most coverage, but I am more concerned with the surveilance powers it grants. The ACLU has listed the problems. Hopefully Obama’s experience in Constitutional law wil lead him to placing more controls on how surveilance is performed, and there is no doubt that he will respect civil liberties to a greater extent than John McCain or George Bush. It would be far better if  Congress were to do a better job of imposing checks on the Executive branch and include necessary restrictions in the legislation they pass.

The civil liberties aspects of this matter have been widely discussed, including in the links above. There remains some political aspects of interest, including the relationship between the liberal blogosphere and the Democratic Party. Damozel has posted a run down of blog comments from yesterday, and was kind enough to include a link to my post. While there are areas where I disagree with her which I will get to below, we both agree in our concern for the provisions beyond retroactive immunity, and in believing that political considerations in an election year are largely behind Obama’s support for the compromise. 

One theme seen in many comments in the blogosphere, including those quoted by Damozel, is the question of whether Obama will consistently pursue the agenda of the liberal blogosphere. While this might come as a shock to some bloggers, I’ve long felt that the answer to that one is “no.” Nor would I want him to on all issues, even if I wish he had on this one. I think Obama has made it clear that he does not support the liberal Democratic orthodoxy on all matters and that he plans to govern in a manner which moves beyond the recent left/right divide. That means that liberal bloggers might not always approve of what Obama does. I just wish it wasn’t on a civil liberties issue that he first showed such independence.

During the Bush years it was easy for the liberal blogosphere to be united (other than when divided over preferred candidates). While we might have a variety of opinions on other topics, there was unanimous opposition to pretty much everything Bush has done. Once the Democrats are setting the agenda, there will be far more disagreement on the left. While me might agree in opposing the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, we do not necessarily agree on all issues. In this regard I see Obama as being similar to many other individuals on the left. We agree on some issues but not on others. I have no doubt that in the future his policies will differ from the consensus of agreement on the left to the extent to which it exists. In other areas there will be differences of opinion and some of us will agree with Obama and some won’t. As I’ve written in the past, if Obama is elected I suspect that I will have a number of blog posts disagreeing with his actions. However I also believe things will be far better than if any of his opponents of either party had won.

This leads to my disagreement with Damozel and some other bloggers. She beleives that Edwards would have never gone along with this and that he is more “progressive” than Obama. The Sideshow asks, “Is it too late for all the superdelegates to throw their votes to Edwards and cause a floor fight?”

What makes anyone believe that Edwards would be the slightest bit better than Obama on civil liberties issues? You certainly cannot say this based upon his Senate years when he helped write the Patriot Act and certainly did not have a progressive record. You can’t say this based upon his years practicing law which provided no experience in civil liberties issues. While he is certainly far from perfect, I continue to believe that Barack Obama, with his experience in Constitutional law, is a far better choice.

The belief that Edwards is more progressive than Obama demonstrates the limitations of our political categories. Edwards did move to the left in supporting populist economics, but beyond this I saw no evidence of him really embracing liberal principles on civil liberties and social issues. There is a tremendous difference between the political platform one adopts in a given election year and the principles they have supported throughout their entire career. Once it was clear we were down to a choice of only three of the Democratic contenders I backed Obama considering him the only liberal of the three. I saw the choice as  being between one liberal candidate and two populist conservatives.

Many in the liberal blogosphere will disagree strongly with this, while others will agree in finding Obama the only acceptable choice of the upper tier Democratic candidates. Similarly we had strong divisions between supporters of Obama and Clinton in the final months of the primary campaign. This gets back to my earlier comments on the lack of a consensus on all matters in the liberal blogosphere. The differences between supporters of different candidates were not simply matters of disagreement over personalities. They often represented real differences in world view.

These differences were more obvious during a primary campaign and will most likely be limited in the upcoming months, even if some supporters of Edwards or Clinton periodically argue  that their candidate should have won the nomination. Assuming that Obama wins the general election, the liberal blogosphere will be in a situation where we have never been before. We will most likely have greater disagreements as to what should be done when the major political issues are no longer being for or against the policies of George Bush. We will at times support and at other times oppose what Obama is doing. While the blogosphere is pretty much united in disagreeing with Obama on the FISA compromise, even among those of us who backed him in the primaries, I suspect that it will be even more common for the blogosphere to be divided on different issues with some opposing and some agreeing with Obama. The divisions between different groups of conservatives have been apparent for years. The differences in opinion between liberal bloggers might be come far more apparent in the future.


  1. 1
    MsJoanne says:

    Ron, while I always value what you say, on this I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, we (collectively) will disagree on issues, this is not an issue. This isa an affront on the Constitution and on our basic rights. To compare FISA (and the vile concept of retroactive immunity) to any given issue is like comparing apples and chairs. I could live with not getting ‘my way’ on an issue but not on further erosion and destruction of a basic tenet of what America was and is supposed to be about.

    If there wasn’t so much at stake right now, I would sit this election out – the first time in my 48 years. As it is, I am struggling with Obama as an option right now.

    Hope? No longer. Betrayal, definitely. To all of us and to the country.

    I once said I would hold my nose and vote Clinton. Well, I am now relegated to doing just that for Obama. And I am none too happy about it.

    I. Am. Pissed! And I am not getting over this. Our country has been betrayed for 8 years. I feel it is being further betrayed now. And I feel personally betrayed, to boot.

    Dem…Gooper. No difference. Sorry.

  2. 2
    Benny says:

    Edwards Urges Senate Democrats To Filibuster FISA Bill
    Senator John Edwards released the following statement urging Senate Democrats to filibuster the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA):
    “In Washington today, telecom lobbyists have launched a full-court press to win retroactive immunity for their illegal eavesdropping on American citizens. Granting retroactive immunity will let corporate law-breakers off the hook and hamstring efforts to learn the truth about Bush’s illegal spying program.
    “It’s time for Senate Democrats to show a little backbone and stand up to George W. Bush and the corporate lobbyists. They should do everything in their power — including joining Senator Dodd’s efforts to filibuster this legislation — to stop retroactive immunity. The Constitution should not be for sale at any price.”
    –January 24, 2008, http://www.johnedwards.com/news/press-releases/20080124-fisa/
    Regarding Patriot Act, he advocated for a Sunset Clause, got it, and when it came up for renewal, he believed much of it needed re-doing.
    Obama will likely duck the issue, as he has done 131 times in the Illinois senate and most of his voting record this past year.

  3. 3
    James says:

    I never could understand why the left supported Edwards. Besides his backing for pretty much all the oppressive measures of the Patriot Act he only had a 50% ranking from the ACLU.

    By contrast, Obama has an 82% ranking and Clinton has a 75% ranking. Obama got dragged down by voting against the ACLU on a measure involving campaign finance reform where the civil liberties aspects were pretty nebulous.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:


    A comment from Edwards from January has exactly zero relevance to the present situation. Many Democrats spoke of taking similar action in January. What they will do with an actual compromise bill before them is a different matter. Obama has also stated that he will fight in the Senate to have the immunity provisions removed from the final bill.

    There is also a tremendous difference between what politicians say early in a primary campaign and what they do when faced with the realities of actually being the nominee in a general election battle.

    Edwards did not just call for a Sunset Clause as most of the Senate Democrats did. He was a strong backer of most of the restrictions on civil liberties in the Patriot Act. As James pointed out, he had an abysmal rating from the ACLU.

    Claiming Obama will duck the issue is just a repetition of a right wing smear. The distorted attacks regarding voting present have been refuted many times and did not represent ducking the issue.

    As for his voting percentage this year–look back at Edwards’ record when he was a candidate, as well as every other Senator in their positions.

    Your conclusion with baseless smears on Obama do not in any way change the fact that Edwards has been a conservative on civil liberties issues while Obama has a much stronger record (even if wrong at the moment). Obama certainly is not perfect on civil liberties issues, but he has the strongest record of any of our viable choices this year.

  5. 5
    Ron Chusid says:

    Ms Joanne,

    Obama is certainly wrong in his backing of this, but that does not mean that the Democrats and Republicans are the same.

    While ACLU rankings are not an exact indicator, they give a general idea. As James points out, Obama has an 82% ranking. McCain has a 25% ranking.

    Obama certainly is not perfect on civil liberties, but he is by far our best option. (Incidentally, Ron Paul who claims to be the greatest defender of liberty, only has a 62% ranking).

    With regards to immunity, Obama does say he will fight to have this portion of the bill removed. I’m hoping that all the criticism from the left will help convince him to vote against this should such attempts to be unsuccessful.

    With regards to the other components of the bill, I do not want any president to have these powers. However if any president does, I would prefer that it be Obama as opposed to Bush or McCain. I’m also hoping that once we have Obama in the White House and a Democratic Senate an entire new set of laws can be developed which both address legitimate needs to fight terrorism while preserving civil liberties and respecting the Constitution. This may or may not happen, but the chances of it happening under McCain are zero.

  6. 6
    Ron Chusid says:

    Ms Joanne,

    There’s another partial defense of Obama. His statements on this have included the fact that these acts are a violation of the Constitution. That does not justify voting for the measure, but it does represent a real distinction showing that he is not the same as the Republicans.

    The strongest reason for opposing the immunity in the past has been the fear that immunity would prevent any investigation as to exactly what Bush did. I think this was far more important than actually punishing anyone considering the atmosphere after 9/11. The compromise legislation does include provisions which will still allow for a review of what occurred. The compromise gives up too much and should still be voted down, but the compromise does take into account some of the civil liberties concerns.

    In other words, the Democrats are wrong, but are still significantly better than the Republicans. For those who thought that the Democrats were near perfect, this comes as a great shock. To someone such as myself who has always seen significant problems in both parties, this changes little. We have two parties which insufficiently protect civil liberties, but of the two the Democrats are much better than the Republicans.

  7. 7
    xoites says:

    Repeal FISA is up and running. Anyone who wants to is welcome to sign up and become a Poster on it. The purpose of the blog is to organize a drive to repeal the FISA laws and all laws that pardon or give immunity from prosecution anyone who has violated the Constitution during the Bush Administration.
    That is why we want everyone to be able to Post so they can start a conversation about an idea they have to make this happen.
    Stop on by and check it out. By all means leave a comment and sign up to blog with us as we figure out what needs to be done to return our Fourth Amendment Rights and our rule of law.
    If you have a blog already and you become a poster we will link to your site.


  8. 8
    Ron Chusid says:

    I don’t think the goal should really be repealing FISA as opposed to rewriting the laws to maintain stronger restrictions. Some mechanism is necessary to provide judicial oversight for surveillance. The problem is not that there is a law but that the law enables those conducting surveillance to go beyond what is both necessary and what many of us feel is consistent with the intent of the Constitution. The retroactive immunity should also be removed, along with provisions which make it easier for the government to avoid oversight of the surveillance.

  9. 9
    Pete says:

    Incredible. It’s been so frustrating these last 6 years trying to get intelligent Republicans I know to take a stand against their party. They know something is wrong, but they won’t budge. I figured my party was different. When we get into power (I thought) we will keep our leaders in line.
    Well, I was wrong. The Republicans may have horrible immoral convictions, but at least they have convictions.

  10. 10
    vjack says:

    Obama’s flip-flop on this is infuriating and may end up causing me to change my mind about supporting him. I am going to have to give this much thought and may now end up supporting the Green Party.
    Every time a measure is proposed to promote holding the Bush administration accountable, it seems that the Democrats rally to shoot it down. I used to think this was because they thought going after Bush could be a political liability. But with his approval rating in the toilet, I am beginning to wonder if it isn’t more about them wanting to protect themselves. Could it be that Congressional Democrats, Obama included, are more interested in covering their collusion with Bush than upholding the Constitution and punishing the Bush administration for their crimes?

  11. 11
    Ron Chusid says:


    “The Republicans may have horrible immoral convictions, but at least they have convictions.”

    There are two problems with the Democrats. One is that there are many conservatives who are conservative on civil liberties issues. A second problem is that even when Democrats have better convictions than the Republicans they are often afraid to express them out of fear of appearing weak on fighting terrorism.

    The problem with this approach is that it allows the Republican line to go unchallenged, perpetuating the illusion that the Republican approach is effective in defending the country when they are actually both undermining civil liberties and pursuing policies which are not beneficial for our national security. Ultimately the only way the Democrats can end their problem being portrayed as being weaker on national security is to face the Republicans head on.

  12. 12
    Ron Chusid says:


    “Could it be that Congressional Democrats, Obama included, are more interested in covering their collusion with Bush than upholding the Constitution and punishing the Bush administration for their crimes?”

    In some cases the Democrats are reluctant to go very far against Bush over measures since 9/11 including the Iraq war since, while not directly responsible, they did do a very poor job of providing opposition. Obama directly wouldn’t be guilty of “collusion” as he wasn’t in Congress at the time, and he did speak out against the Iraq war. It still makes it harder for Obama politically to oppose the FISA compromise when it appears likely to pass. If the Democratic leadership was opposing this, then I bet that Obama would be taking a different position.

    It appears clear that the Democrats are unlikely to do enough to investiate and take action against the actions of the Bush administration. Still, the fact remains that if Obama is president there will be a change in how things are done (and possibly the Justice Department might look into past offenses). There is no chance this will happen if McCain wins.

  13. 13
    DW says:

    My electric 3rd rail. Cannot vote for any politician who does not worship my Bill of Rights that I spent 4 years in combat zones defending. You got a warrant I guess you’re coming in.
    In particular I want AT&T killed. The SF Chronicle revealed how they tag-teamed every legislature in California Assembly to defeat measures such as lowering the charge for unlisted numbers. They are a monopoly that cannot be regulated (because they buy lawmakers) and they gleefully spied on us probably even before 9/11 (cf Qwest CEO).
    T should die after a fair trial.
    As to Obama doing better in governing the spy on us agencies that is not relevant in the longer run. Think 20 years hence when Richard M. Palpatine is elected president after some terrorist act. We are now witnessing the deconstruction of the Old Republic.

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