Obama’s Strange Flip On FISA
By James Donahue
Democratic presidential candidate
Senator Barack Obama has just done something that supporters and fellow Democrats never expected after months of his unwavering
campaigning against the Clintons. He flip-flopped on the controversial FISA issue.
FISA, for anyone who isn’t
staying on top of the complex world of the Bush political system, is a proposed bill that will, if passed, legalize all of
the illegal spying on Americans committed by the Bush Administration and the participating telecommunication industries. The
original version would have given the president unprecedented powers to continue violating our Fourth Amendment rights by
tapping into our private telephone, Internet and other electronic communications without seeking court approval.
Obama stood firmly opposed
to FISA during the long hard debates ripping through Congress in past months. But a so-called “compromise” deal
seems to have drawn enough Democrats into the fold, including Mr. Obama, that the new FISA bill appears to be sliding through
the legislative process like a greased pig at the county fair.
When the bill was passed by
the House last week, Obama announced that he now supported FISA, although he said he would try to strip a provision granting
immunity to the telecommunication companies when it comes to a Senate vote.
Since we already have had a
FISA bill in place since 1978, critics are asking why an updated version is necessary at all, except to cover up for all of
the illegal activities going on in the White House since 9-11. It seems the government has been secretly eavesdropping on
American phone and computer lines ever since, and never bothering to ask permission from the FISA Court.
The bill is designed to head
off some 40 lawsuits filed against the telecommunications companies.
Obama told reporters this week
his stand on FISA “is a close call for me,” but he said compromised changes in the original bill keeps the power
in the hands of the FISA Court, and not the president, and adds a new inspector general role and other oversight conditions
“met my basic concerns.”
His stand on the issue has
angered many liberals, including columnist Glenn Greenwald who blasted MSNBC Commentator Keith Olbermann and Jonathan Alter,
senior editor of Newsweek Magazine, for giving Obama the benefit of the doubt when discussing the issue on June 25.
“The real danger
is that those who defend Obama the Candidate no matter what he does are likely to defend Obama the President no matter what
he does, too,” Greenwald wrote.
What Alter said about the Obama
FISA stance was somewhat profound, and it is obvious this man understands the workings of politicians in those smoke-filled
back rooms. He said people need to understand that Obama has “always been a politician, he’ll always be a politician,
and politics is the art of the possible. And he’s a legislator. He knows that you can’t always get everything
that you want in a bill, even if he personally believes that the immunity for Telcoms is a bad idea.”
Some years back, while working
as a county bureau reporter for a Gannett newspaper, I was covering a county Republican convention during a presidential election
year, and was asked if I wanted to attend the state convention as an alternate delegate. While I knew it threatened to compromise
my objectivity as a reporter, I also saw it as a great opportunity to get in on the inner chambers of state level politics
in a way few other reporters could ever hope. I called my editor, discussed the idea, and got the ok.
That convention was a real
eye-opener. Hundreds of delegates representing every county were gathered in one giant convention center where they came with
separate political agendas, and all trying to be heard. The trick was to get certain candidates on the ballot for state level
jobs, but also to get agreement on important resolutions calling for party-approved legislation in the year ahead. I was with
our county team, not voting as an alternate, but allowed to stand back and watch the “deal making” in those back
rooms as our guys agreed to compromise one issue if they could get the other guys to vote for another we considered more important
As a result of that experience,
I think I understand Obama, perhaps in a better way than Greenwald, and certainly most citizens. It is obvious that he is
walking a tightrope on the FISA issue, but it seems as if some kind of a deal was cut so that he is going to get something
better out of the issue in the long run.
Obama has shown his girth during
his long campaign against the Clintons, and if he appears to have flip-flopped on this issue, we have to believe there was
a damned good reason.