I am a very pragmatic liberal. While my policy preferences are mainstream center-left, I've been in politics a long time and I've been studying it even longer. I recognize that all you can usually do is move the needle a little bit in your direction, or at least prevent it from moving in the other direction. I don't have many hard voting issues, and I'm willing to forgive a great deal from Democratic politicians. Compromise is a big part of democratic politics, and sometimes you have to make agreements that you don't particularly like.
But what I am not is a hack. I'm not going to rationalize everything my "team" does for the sake of political expedience. There are a few issues that I just can't compromise much on - and this FISA bill is one of them. Retroactive immunity creates the dreadful precedent that private companies can violate the law as long as they have permission from the executive branch. Thinking about the consequences of that for a moment makes me want to pour a stiff drink - and it's only 10AM.
I don't think I'm being particularly unreasonable. I forgave the Democrats for voting for the Patriot Act because right after 9/11 it was pretty crazy and people did wacky things. I don't approve, but I understand. I'll even go so far as to one day get past my feelings about members of Congress who vote for the FISA bill. I won't forget, and it will be a permanent mark against them, but I won't drop all support for them forever - just my respect.
Where I do have to draw the line is with potential Presidents voting for this bill. Barack Obama is probably going to be President, and he will be the one possessing these new unconstitutional undemocratic powers. This places him under a higher standard - one he is abjectly failing to meet. To make matters worse, Obama knows better. He's a constitutional lawyer, and a smart one. I think he knows what this means.
One could argue that Obama is doing this for tactical reasons. He's afraid of being slammed by the Republicans as soft. First, I don't think it matters, because he's going to be attacked on SOMETHING for being soft. Why not domestic spying on behalf of big corporations? That's a debate he can win. Second, the fact that he would jettison the Constitution for the sake of political advantage makes him the worst kind of unprincipled weakling. He's going to stand up and take the oath of office to uphold the Constitution right after he's sabotaged it? I think not. Obama clearly believes that retroactive immunity isn't that important, which means that he is evincing no respect for civil liberties or the rule of law. And no man like that should be entrusted with the powers of the presidency. It's that simple.
I take my vote very seriously. It's an endorsement from me towards a particular candidate, a statement that I believe a candidate is worthy of an office. And while I accept the idea that by not voting for Obama I'm making a worse candidate's likelihood of victory more important, I can honestly say that I don't much care.
I don't think I'm behaving like a Nader voter. Generally they were voting for Nader because they didn't think Gore was liberal enough - out of general ideological predispositions - not because Gore did some specific thing that they powerfully objected to. I don't think most of them thought Gore was unfit to hold the Presidency. Unless you believe someone just can't be trusted with the office, then you should select whichever candidate is closer to your positions that has a chance to win. But if you really believe that a candidate is a danger to the democracy, you become complicit in their actions if you vote for them. And Obama, if he votes for this bill, will fail precisely that test. It's like that Simpsons episode where the aliens replace Dole and Clinton - you don't have to vote for either candidate if they are just beyond the pale.
Does this mean I think that Obama is a dictator-in-embryo. It's highly doubtful. But it does indicate that he is either a) to weak to say no even on matters of high principle, and b) is so ambitious he is willing to trample the Constitution to get his way. And I just can't vote for someone who is either.
Now it's possible that all of this is a test balloon. Obama's statement was pretty ambiguous, and could be read to say either that he 1) will vote for the bill only if retroactive immunity is removed, or 2) he will vote for it either way. His wording suggests the latter, but it can be read either way. Perhaps he is gauging the reaction from his supporters, and will vote against the final bill if it includes retroactive immunity. But if all he's going to do is vote to strip it from the bill, lose and then vote for the underlying bill anyway, I can't support him. I don't expect him to stop the legislation, I just expect him not to become enable it. Because if he does, I won't be enabling him.
I have been following the FISA, sending out letter and what not and I am quite disappointed in the house.By Crawlspace, at 12:15 PM
I have a question perhaps you can answer: If the senate passes this and the telecoms get their immunity, would it still me possible for the judicial branch to over turn it? Or would this more or less seal the deal for good?
The courts could overturn it, yes. But given the recent trend in the courts to defer to the executive branch on security questions, I'm not hopeful.By Arbitrista, at 12:35 PM
And you should be sending your letters to the Senate! Democratic Senators especially would be good to contact.
"Obama clearly believes that retroactive immunity isn't that important, which means that he is evincing no respect for civil liberties or the rule of law. And no man like that should be entrusted with the powers of the presidency. It's that simple."By Marriah, at 1:15 PM
It's not that simple, and I think you are inappropriately making this a test case of your support for Obama. We need to distinguish here between actions by government officials and actions by the private sector. During the Vietnam War, many private citizens dodged the draft and fled to Canada. Many Republicans wanted those people to go to prison for breaking the law, yet the president (either Ford or Carter) gave them amnesty. Retroactive immuninty for doing the bidding of government officials is undesirable, but I can live with it. What I cannot live with is the government officials getting away with ordering the illegal wiretaps.
I am not willing to making punishing the private sector for the public sector's malfeasance a test case of my support for Obama.
"Does this mean I think that Obama is a dictator-in-embryo. It's
It's quite silly to even think this.
"But it does indicate that he is either a) to weak to say no even on matters of high principle, and b) is so ambitious he is willing to trample the Constitution to get his way. And I just can't vote for someone who is either."
This is NOT a matter of high principle, and Obama is clearly not so ambitious that he willing to trample the Constitution.
How does it not undermine the Constitution to create a precedent in which the President can use corporations as proxies to violate the law, while granting immunity that makes it impossible to demonstrate the President has done so? I don't think you are taking this issue seriously enough. And by the way, I can make anything a test case for my vote I want to, thank you very much.By Arbitrista, at 6:28 AM
"How does it not undermine the Constitution to create a precedent in which the President can use corporations as proxies to violate the law, while granting immunity that makes it impossible to demonstrate the President has done so?"By Marriah, at 12:59 PM
The corporations should not be used in place of the president as a target. The government officials, including the president, who ordered these companies to violate the law should be held accountable. But that requires Congressional hearings. Legislation that grants immunity is undesirable, but it's the wrong mechanism to target for a tirade against Obama. You can make anything a test case for your vote (such as a candidate's choice of clothing), but that doesn't mean you should. If you are going to take your vote seriously, then you have to access critiques of your rationale. Otherwise, if you are making anything a test case for your vote, you aren't taking your vote seriously.
But you can't target the president is he used corporations as a proxy in order to obstruct justice. How is one supposed to KNOW the president is breaking the law? Immunity for corporations creates with it immunity for the public officials who ordered the action - which is probably why Bush and his cronies are pushing so hard for this in the first place! This law creates a loophole into which you can stuff the entire Constitution.By Arbitrista, at 1:25 PM
And I don't think it's a serious argument to believe that I am trivially establishing a test case. You know as well as I do that this is a substantive issue, and as such can reasonably be employed as a method of deciding whom to vote for. It's not like I'm not voting for him because of his favorite novel. He has taken a position on an issue of public policy which I find reprehensible. Just because you don't agree with my making it a voting issue doesn't mean that a responsible person can't make it one.
Usually we know that a president is breaking or has broken the law when a congressional hearing allows a staff member to reveal illegal activity. Remember how Watergate started? The burglary itself was small potatoes, but when a Congressional hearing revealed that Nixon had ordered a cover-up, it was a simple matter of tracing it to the top. It isn't necessary to focus solely on the law-breakers, whether they are granted immunity or not.By Marriah, at 10:38 AM
That's why I am surprised you are treating this so seriously. If you want to focus on impeachable offenses (and this surely is one) then use the proper procedures that have been successfully used in the past. This bill is about FISA, not about whether Bush ordered companies to break the law. Instead of talking about Obama's support for this bill, we should be talking about advocating Congressional hearings.
You can treat this issue with any level of gravity you wish, but support for Obama and Bush's offenses are two separate issues, and you should treat them as such.
Um, because of the extension of executive privilege, Congress no longer has any meaningful oversight powers. Haven't you been paying attention? This change has been orchestrated by Cheney et al precisely because of the Watergate precedent. In addition, the tolerance for illegality in the White House by the political branches as reached epidemic proportions - Iran Contra led to nothing, and Bush has flagrantly violated the law without consequences. And as you know, impeachment is now effectively "off the table" because of the Lewinsky fiasco.By Arbitrista, at 10:15 AM
Having said that, what I take seriously is the idea that private companies can be suborned into serving the (partisan?) ends of the incumbent administration with no meaningful way of holding them or the administration accountable. The very fact that the bill will pass, and that it will prevent any discovery or prosecution, demonstrates how dangerous this is.
You might think that I am treating this issue with too much gravity, but from my perspective you aren't treating it seriously enough.