M.S. Bellows: Obama's foolish inconsitency

Ben Cohen
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By Ari Rutenberg

In the following post, HuffPost blogger M.S. Bellows Jr. gives the most accurate and eloquent description
of why Obama's position on FISA is so pointless and aggravating from a social and psychological perspective I've yet read (for the legal and policy implications, read Glenn Greenwald).  He writes:

It's true that Barack Obama has taken flak from many of his supporters
for his shift to the "center" since locking up the Democratic
nomination. Some of the angst on the left is naive and loses sight of
the fact that every candidate must reach out to a different
constituency in a general election than he or she did in the primary;
that's the nature of politics. What's more, all of us (not just
politicians) struggle to balance our own sense of right and wrong
against the perceptions and judgments of others: what will our spouse,
our children, our parents, our boss, the neighbors think?....

I don't hold most of Obama's shifts in position against him; or, at the
very least, I respect him enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
If he is great, then much of what is blithely called "flip flopping"
may actually be the wise refusal of a true statesman to adhere to a
foolish consistency. So he says one thing in a public place, and later
adjusts it; I'm willing to at least postpone judgment until I can ask
why. Opting out of campaign finance, wearing or not wearing a flag pin:
these are "shadows on the wall"; who cares?...

But that doesn't mean it's all good.

There are two laws by which
inconsistencies must be judged. One is expediency: when a politician
tactically shifts his position to obtain some larger good, does it pay
off? Is he getting the good thing he's bargaining for? If so -- if a
politician budges on a funding bill in order to improve some aspect of
education, for instance -- then it may just be wise horse-trading. But
if it's a net loser, then we can call that politician unwise.

The other limit to acceptable inconsistency is this: every great
statesman, every great person, must adhere to some larger, immovable
principles. He must stand for something. It's only when staying true to
our core principles that we can indulge in the freedom to make
necessary adjustments on transient issues. In fact, that's the heart of
Emerson's lesson: that if we are true to our principles, then in the
end our minor inconsistencies -- our "flip flops" -- will seem as
insignificant as the Andes or the Himalaya are, seen from space...

On the FISA legislation, Obama is coming very close to failing both the expediency and principle tests.

His abandonment of principle couldn't be clearer, no matter what his
defenders say. The FISA "compromise" allows the government to data-mine
the contents of millions of Americans' communications -- their phone
calls, emails, IMs -- even when there's no suspicion at all that those
Americans are involved with terrorism, and without warrants. The bill
pretends to add warrant and other oversight requirements -- but, as
Glenn Greenwald has repeatedly explained in his columns on this issue, and as Senator Russ Feingold explained on the Senate floor yesterday
(caution: superb, but really long, speech), it also contains exceptions
that swallow the rule. Obama, a Constitutional Law professor, knows
better. There's no way a "yes" vote on this bill can be reconciled with
what he said less than a year ago, on August 1, 2007, when he referred
to the "false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security
we demand" and promised "no more illegal wire-tapping of American
citizens.... That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to
defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers
works. Our Constitution works."

You can read the full article, with audio, here.