Obama is playing a dangerous game with his base

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Ben Cohen
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by Ari Rutenberg

In one of his first opportunities to demonstrate his true vision for change, Barack Obama has failed.  In what is obviously a calculated political maneuver, he today revealed (statement below the fold) that he would in fact support this new FISA bill.  In doing so he has potentially angered and alienated many of us in his progressive base knowing that we have no alternative at this point and are still more than likely to vote for him. 

Unfortunately they are right.  Other more progressive candidates are essentially out of the running and in this political climate probably unelectable.  He still represents new blood, even if it seems to be as easily corrupted as the old.  We have no other place to go for any type of real change. 

But we can still make our voices heard in his campaign.  We can write and call and post and question him in public at every opportunity we get.  We can make sure that he knows why he is being elected. 

It is so disappointing to see that Obama is so easy to manipulate.  He is indeed not immune to the foibles of normal candidates.  But it is particularly disturbing on this issue where the only thing that has been conclusively shown is that Bush's wiretapping program and the actions of the telecoms were illegal.  To my knowledge no one has ever suggested any actual examples of how this program, and specifically the part where they don't need warrants, has prevented some major disaster. And despite his assurances to the latter I do not really trust Obama to properly use unconstitutional authority any more than I do Bush.

This is a real disappointment for me, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Here is his statement in full via Glenn Greenwald:

“Given the grave threats that we face, our
national security agencies must have the capability to gather
intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike, while
respecting the rule of law and the privacy and civil liberties of the
American people. There is also little doubt that the Bush
Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications
companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by
intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their
knowledge or the required court orders.



That is why last year I
opposed the so-called Protect America Act, which expanded the
surveillance powers of the government without sufficient independent
oversight to protect the privacy and civil liberties of innocent
Americans. I have also opposed the granting of retroactive immunity to
those who were allegedly complicit in acts of illegal spying in the
past.



After months of negotiation, the House today passed a compromise that, while far from perfect, is a marked improvement over last year's Protect America Act.

Under
this compromise legislation, an important tool in the fight against
terrorism will continue, but the President's illegal program of
warrantless surveillance will be over. It restores FISA and existing
criminal wiretap statutes as the exclusive means to conduct
surveillance – making it clear that the President cannot circumvent the
law and disregard the civil liberties of the American people. It also
firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic
surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive
immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so
that we can seek full accountability for past offenses. But this
compromise guarantees a thorough review by the Inspectors General of
our national security agencies to determine what took place in the
past, and ensures that there will be accountability going forward. By
demanding oversight and accountability, a grassroots movement of
Americans has helped yield a bill that is far better than the Protect
America Act.



It is not all that I would want. But given
the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence
collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay.
So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as
President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by
the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any
additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the
liberty – of the American people.”