Despite everything I objected to in Obama’s speech, it’s this line from Richard Durbin’s introduction that grated on me most:
Barack Obama has the wisdom to know that we should never risk our freedoms and privacy to the overreaching hand of government.
A lovely thought, and one that I know resonates with many of the civil libertarians who read this blog. But civil liberties didn’t come up in Obama’s speech tonight. They get hardly any play on his website. And he failed spectacularly on his one major test on the issue during the campaign.
That test was the Bush-backed amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to expand the government’s warrantless wiretapping powers and grant immunity to the telecommunications companies that were complicit in previous spying. Obama had promised, in no uncertain terms, to support a filibuster of the bill when it came up for a vote in the Senate. But when it came time to stand up for civil liberties, he caved. First he voted for cloture on the bill, removing the possibility of filibuster. Then he voted for the bill itself.
I linked to this once before, but it’s worth quoting. Here’s Thoreau from Unqualified Offerings:
The issue on the table was whether or not companies should face legal liability for helping a President do illegal deeds. The person who is campaigning for that office broke a promise to fight the good fight, and voted in favor of a bill that would provide protection for people who help Presidents break the law. This is no small matter. This is an issue that goes to the very core of executive power and how Obama approaches governing. Greenwald has been blogging quite a bit lately about how there’s little popularity advantage to be gained from aiding abuses of power. This isn’t 2001–people aren’t nearly as scared as they were. Obama would not have paid any significant political price for opposing immunity. Yet he supported immunity, in the end, by voting for cloture and voting for a bill that included immunity. How can we read this as anything other than an endorsement of “The Decider Decides”?
Obama may not wear the same iron glove, he might turn out to be a softer Decider. But he has nonetheless endorsed the basic concept of The Decider. Screw him. No fucking way am I voting for him.
It’s tempting to support Obama after two terms of Bush, but this is the kind of thing he’s going to get away with if civil libertarians let him take their votes for granted. Don’t let him off the hook so easily.