When Democrats have violated the standards to which I have held their opposition, I have been equinanimous in calling them out, and I have striven to avoid being the type of doctrinaire party-before-country hack that has been at the root of America's seven year spiral under George W. Bush. Just because it's "our guy" breaking the law or eroding the Constitution or getting caught in a web of his own corruption, doesn't make it OK; that's how we got where we are in the first place.
With last week's congressional machinations in full swing to pass a ruinous rewrite of existing domestic surveillance laws - and grant telecommunications companies immunity from criminal acts carried out at the behest of the White House - presidential candidate Barack Obama, along with House Democratic leadership, violated exactly the standards I describe above. Senator Obama reversed his prior declaration that he would filibuster any proposed law that contained telecom immunity, and came out in support of the egregious bill foisted on the legislature by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Missouri's Senator Kit Bond, saying:
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.In response, CubbyChaser at Comedy Central's Indecision 2008 blog got it exactly right, observing:
Oh, well, he seems like a nice man. How can you mind surrendering your Constitutional rights to someone so charming?Which brings us to the fundamental predicament of this situation with respect to the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. If Mr. Obama continues to support retroactive immunity and greater infringements of the Fourth Amendment, he will have gone from being a candidate one can wholeheartedly support to one for which those who care about civil liberties will cast their ballots holding their noses. Some will abstain from the general election entirely, but they will be in the minority; no one serious about even incremental reform will vote for John McCain.
So how to nip this in the bud? I suggest steady and unequivocal communication to the Obama campaign stating in no uncertain terms that his actions and positions are being closely observed. I eMailed them on Friday, and below is my open letter to the junior senator from Illinois.
To Whom It May Concern:If the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures matters to you, I encourage you in the strongest terms to contact Obama for America and let them know. Barack Obama must be held to a consistent standard; not only when it benefits him, but when it does not.
Originally, Barack Obama vowed to fillibuster any legislation that includes retroactive immunity for law-breaking telecoms. This was the right position to take; no ordinary American would ever receive retroactive immunity for acts they knew to be illegal, simply because the president or anyone else told them those acts needed to be committed.
Now, however, Senator Obama has not only reversed himself on one of the most important issues of the day, promising to support the wretched FISA bill recently passed from the House to the Senate, but has reneged on the promises he made to restore the rule of law and respect for the Constitution so badly damaged during the presidency of George W. Bush. Those of us who care about civil liberties and understand what is in this bill recognize the senator's new position for exactly what it is: a betrayal of the foundational principles of the Unites States and a demonstration that, at the end of the day, Senator Obama is more than willing to claim the same type of imperial powers sought by President Bush over the past 7 years.
Barack Obama is campaigning on the slogan "Change You Can Believe In." Unless he stops this bill - and it is well within his power to do so - he will have demonstrated conclusively that those are empty words indeed. On the surface, this might seem like single issue advocacy, but it is very definitely not. Without the rule of law and without respect for our Constitution, the United States is no better than any other country which vests its powers in monarchs or despots. Without equal justice, this country fails.
I voted for Senator Obama in the Missouri primary, and I have contributed to his campaign. I will donate no further funds if he continues with this course of action, and I will be certain to discuss his reversal at length with others who currently support him. We are hypocrites if we ask only one side of the political spectrum to meet the criteria to which they need to adhere, and we expect better from Senator Obama.
The Obama '08 web feedback form can be found here. The campaign's telephone number is (866) 675-2008, and you can write a letter to the senator at this address:
Obama for America
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680
Likewise, if you are interested in organized action on behalf of consistent political principles across all parties and for all individuals and organizations, please visit Strange Bedfellows, and take their pledge.