Thursday, July 3, 2008

The slippery slope to the center

I was listening to WTIC's Colin McEnroe on the way home yesterday, as he spoke about the Presidential campaign, and in particular, Barack Obama's obvious sidestep toward the center as he moves into the general campaign. McEnroe, eager as I am to have Obama win (McEnroe says he wants to "pop a cork" in November), claims he understands, and agrees with Obama's tactics, including changing his stance on FISA.

McEnroe scolded a caller who was unhappy with Obama's FISA switch. McEnroe indicated that if the left wants Obama elected, they have to tolerate his move toward the center, even if he is abandoning some of his left-leaning stands. He continued by saying that if you want to make FISA an issue, the people on the left have to talk about it in a way the general voting populace will understand. "That's how the Republicans have won," McEnroe claimed. "They talk about issues in a way people understand."

First of all, let me say how lucky we are in Connecticut to have McEnroe's intelligent daily commentary on issues. He's generally liberal, smart, funny, insightful, fair (in my mind, maybe too fair), and he's got the quickest hair-trigger synapses in the region. And he's somehow successful on an AM radio station that is thick with right-wing liars, chickenhawks and hatemongers.

But on this issue, FISA, I can't agree.

While the Bush administration, most of Congress, and apparently the press, would like the public to view FISA as a highly-complex, highly technical issue that really won't affect most of us in any meaningful way. They'd like you to believe that it's an issue on which the left is aggravated beyond reason. They want you to think that it's an issue that most people don't care, or want to care about. They want you to think that its all about "getting the terrorists."

In fact, it is an important issue, on which Constitutional principles rest. And in that regard, I guess I have to be resigned to the fact that most Americans truly don't care, because we don't care about the Constitution unless we're talking about guns.

FISA is complex and technical, but not beyond comprehension. The newly revised FISA will affect us all because it strips us or constitutional protections against willful and arbitrary invasion of our privacy by the government. The left is concerned, but listen to what Chris Dodd has to say (which is approximately what Barack Obama used to say), about FISA. I don't consider Dodd a lefty, a socialist, or a conspiracy theorist. In fact, it's a issue that lots of sane, decent, smart centrist people care about.

In fact, a discussion group on the Obama campaign blog has recruited 15,000 members (and growing) in a week because they're so concerned. And FISA, the original FISA, was about getting the terrorists. That law had everything the government needed to spy on the bad guys, but it also had checks and balances so that one branch of the government couldn't spy with impunity on anyone they damned well pleased to spy on.

The new FISA allows the executive branch just such a power. It limits judicial oversight. And it protects huge corporations - corporations with many lawyers, corporations which understand the law (in fact one such telecom corporation refused to transgress regulations) - and these corporations knowingly broke the law because the president asked them to (as my mother used to ask me, "Would you jump off a bridge if your friends asked you to?). And it protects the president, and his assistants who asked them to break the law from ever being sued by anyone whose privacy was breached, and who was harmed by such a breach of privacy. And BTW, the opposition to the FISA revision is not so much fashioned by a bunch of shrieking lefties, as the support for it has been fashioned by a group of jackbooted, lockstep, right-wing Republican lawmakers who haven't compromised a whit, and who voted, as a block, for it.

So when Barack Obama says he's going to vote for the FISA revision, he's turning his back on civil liberties, he's advancing a power hungry executive branch, and he's protecting huge telecommunication companies who let the president, NSA, the FBI and the CIA, spy on folks like me and you for no good reason.

And when he says he's going to vote for the FISA revision, he's breaking a promise he made to support a filibuster against a nearly identical revision. He's abandoning a principle for the expedience of gaining a few votes from people who are too willfully stupid to try to understand what's going on. Where do you draw the line on how many principles you shed, how far you compromise, how untrue you become to yourself, so that you can move to the center and get a few more votes so we can all raise our glasses in November and hope our new President doesn't forget what justice really is?

And he's giving the press, and the right wing to use the dreaded "flipflop" label.

And now, because McEnroe requested it, here's my explanation of FISA, the way Republicans might talk about it if they were against it. The way "most people" can understand it:

The new FISA law is just like the spying laws they used to have in Communist Russia. The government could tap the phones, and check the computers of anyone they pleased. In Russia, they threw people in jail just for praying to a Christian god. What if a Muslim leader became president? With this law, he could do the same thing here, right? And FISA lets the President ask for any kind of information about you from any company. So every time you buy ammo, the government will know how many bullets you bought, and what kind of gun you own. And if you own the "wrong" kind of guns, a liberal president might throw you in jail for being a terrorist. And if that happens, watch out, because you don't even get to call your lawyer from a jail cell in Pakistan. And if you're a Republican and you order a porno flick from PayPerView, say something like, "Young Sluts in Uniform," they might leak that info to Drudge so you'll never get elected again - hey, never get a job again. Look what they did to poor Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig. You see, FISA is bad, bad, evil bad because it will raise taxes and the price of gas; it will allow the instruction of evolution in schools; it will encourage homosexual sex and heterosexual abortions, and it will inspire many new hip-hop songs and videos.

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