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Obama’s move to the centre/right.

There’s been a backlash against Barack Obama in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party for his reversal on the controversial FISA legislation. He changed course from a year ago when he vowed to oppose this law from passing and supported the passage of this law that offers retroactive immunity to telecom companies for obeying illegal orders by President Bush and his administration to eavesdrop on American citizens in the name of fighting terrorism, without a warrant, back several years ago.

This new FISA law is a sore spot for libertarians and liberals alike because it not only prevents Americans from suing these telecom companies for allowing that illegal activity, but it more importantly will cover up what exactly Bush and his administration were doing (and there has been some disclosure that Bush and his administration were getting the telecoms to do this BEFORE Sept 11, 2001 occurred); another sore spot is that this law is written in a way that more or less forces the FISA court to rubber-stamp any of this activity.

Many liberal/progressive Democrats feel that Obama has helped to push the country back to pre-Richard Nixon days, when there were basically no laws or rules in place on spying on Americans. The US administration and its law enforcement agencies could spy at will back then, which is why after Watergate and its revelations, the original FISA Court was brought into existence in the first place. This new FISA law seems to revert back to those ugly days, and the outrage amongst the liberal Democratic bloggers was so great, Obama was forced to get on his own website and issue a statement to them why he voted the way he did – an explanation that not many believed or accepted. Many charge him with “caving” in to Republican fear-mongering.

It is fair to point out that it wasnt just him that caved on this FISA vote – the Democratic Congress leadership did as well – most likely as an attempt to prevent being called “wimps” on national security and to try and prevent that being used as an attack either on them or on Obama in the upcoming congressional and presidential elections. In essence, they caved on the issue for political expediency and political cover, rather then stand up and fight this on principle.

Obama knows (as do the Democratic leaders) that he has the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in a bind. Theyre sick of Bush, so hes taking the rather safe calculation that despite FISA, they wont stay at home or vote for McCain. I dont think this cave-in was necessary, (several polls on this issue showed that the US public did not like what the US government and the telecoms were doing) but Democrats arent exactly renowned for having spines when faced with either caving or standing up to Republican fear-mongering on national security.

There is already talk amongst the Democratic blogosphere of making an example of some of the Democratic enablers in Congress of this new law by running challengers against them the next time Democratic primaries roll around (think of them as the same as the party elections up here to select candidates for each riding). Will they do the same thing to Obama and or vote for Mccain, or vote for the minor candidates, or not vote at all? I find that highly unlikely. While the US is in a 2 party setup, this is going to occur. The liberal Democrats have a choice: either try to get more progressives to run and get elected to Congress and reform the party from within, or else they’ll need to split and form a “Progressive Party”. For now, they’ve chosen the former.

As for the new FISA law, like the Military Commissions Act, it will probably take a split decision Supreme Court decision to overturn this law, rather then a Congress that abdicated its responsibilities, and that is what the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations are going to ask the US Supreme Court to do. In the meantime, progressives in the US are going to have hold their noses and vote for Obama, because if they don’t, their reward for punishing Obama is 4 more years of Republican rule – at least at the presidency – and a continuation of the Bush policies.


7 comments to Obama’s move to the centre/right.

  • Mark Bailey

    Hey Steve,

    Alright, you’ve forced my hand, I need to show my cards: I can’t deny that Obama is conveniently changing his stance–I’m personally sick and appalled at FISA, and with Obama’s support of the legislation. I choose to hold on to a few of the ‘knowns’ about his past:

    – He was schooled in politics in Chicago, where even being nice starts with being ruthless.

    – He has the most liberal voting record in the Senate (well, until recently that is…)

    – He began his career as a community organizer, foregoing wealth in his 20s for the chance at making a difference in his community.

    There are a few more I could list but I think that gets my point across.

    The bottom line for me is that Obama is a politician, and that as a politician he skirts the fine lines between idealism, pragmatism, and, yes, possibly selling out. Those who view Obama as an idealist wish him to take a broom to American politics and policy. I wish that could be the case, even as I know it would likely fail. Those familiar with Clinton (W. that is) and Gore’s first budget know that even with the best of intentions policy must be compromised to be approved (Gore fought hard to introduce a carbon tax in the ’93 budget – but Congress was far from ready for the Greenshift 🙂 ).

    Those who view Obama as selling out believe that because he is moving towards the centre he is turning away from his visionary principles. His recent ‘panders’ to the right represent exact the kind of gas tax holiday stance he opposed in the primary.

    I can only say that my own belief is somewhere in the middle, that as a pragmatic, ruthless Chigaco style politician, who truly wants to achieve the best for his country, Obama is making the compromises on the issues he considers secondary, so that he will be able to one day make the decisions on the primary issues that will directly affect the future of his country.

    Although I personally would never view or use FISA as a compromise, I can only trust that Obama is doing so because his own plan is much larger, and in his own political context he views FISA as an acceptable sacrifice in his struggle to reach across the aisle.



  • Mark

    Fair enough, but you’re conveniently forgetting that the rhetoric has changed considerably pre and post primary season. It’s not flip flopping, everybody does it, but it is an acknowledgement that Obama isn’t as unique as people liked to believe.

  • Mark Bailey

    Scott gets it, the comments do not. Obama did not promise to be a left wing radical, but to bring a nation together. There are no red states, blue states…

    How did you expect Obama to accomplish the coalition that he promised, of the same magnitude as Reagan only progressive rather than reactive?

    Those accusing Obama of flip-flopping do not understand the central promise of his primary campaign: to set poisonous Washington partisan politics aside.

  • What Mike said. The problem with Obama, he promised so much in the primaries, something different, that when he does the USUAL, moving back to the center for the general, it makes him look really ordinary.

  • This is another Obamination. He has also changed his tune on withdrawing from Iraq, re-opening NAFTA, has supported faith-based initiatives etc. The Wall Stree journal has an article suggesting Obama is running for Bush’s third term since he is adopting a lot of Bush policies.

  • M

    Obama’s downfall could be a sharp move to the right with his promises. I understand that a Democratic presidential candidate needs to attract support from the right. At the same time, don’t sell yourself to the devil.

    If I could vote in the US presidential election, I would support Barack Obama. If he starts to immitate John McCain, I would vote for the real thing instead.

  • As a libertarian friend of mine said:

    “Dare to Hope. Prepare to be Disappointed”

    Obama is now cowtowing to Conservatives. So much for “change”….

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