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Political Animal

In The Tank

By Brian Morton | Posted 7/9/2008

Every presidential election season, there are a few things you can count on, and one of them is the "single message" the Republican Party will put out about the Democratic nominee. For John Kerry, it was "flip-flopper." Every statement Kerry made was measured against some imagined "permanent record" in order to supposedly show how inconsistent Kerry was and how this was not a leadership trait Americans need in a president.

One of the "single messages" Republicans are attempting to use against Barack Obama this season (they haven't settled on just one yet, but you can be sure that by the time the conventions come around next month, they will) is to characterize his supporters as mindless, cult-worshipping "Obamabots." Of course, the irony of this might be lost on Rush Limbaugh followers calling themselves "dittoheads," but still, an attack is an attack.

This columnist declared his support for Obama early this year, but that's not to say that it's a perfect campaign run by the perfect campaigner--far from it. Obama, like any politician, has some policy positions that are flat-out disagreeable.

Over the course of the primary season, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman pointed out how Obama's position on health care was significantly less progressive and helpful than those of John Edwards or Hillary Clinton. Of course, when the next president tackles health care, his proposals will have to be amended and vetted by the Congress. Whether or not this is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen, but the likelihood is small that it will be exactly what Obama wants--it will be a package that will have to pass through the offices of senators Clinton and (more importantly) Ted Kennedy first.

Also troubling, but not quite as urgent, is Obama's waffling stance on the Supreme Court's overturn of the ban on handguns in Washington, D.C. In his statement on the matter, Obama (like much of the media and even Justice Antonin Scalia himself) all but ignored the last substantive ruling on guns, the 1939 U.S. v. Miller decision, when he said, "[The] ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country." He shouldn't be surprised when the National Rifle Association starts mischaracterizing his position for him with a few million dollars of advertising between now and November.

But more than almost anything else, Obama's biggest disappointment is on the issue of amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978. The Bush administration has used the act to excuse its warrantless domestic wiretapping plan and now intends to alter it to gut the Fourth Amendment by giving the president powers virtually unreviewable by any court.

Author and legal blogger Glen Greenwald wrote of Obama's position on the so-called compromise bill: "They're presenting as a `gift' something you already have, and telling you that you should give up critical protections in exchange for receiving something that you already have--namely, a requirement that the President comply with eavesdropping laws. What they're doing is tantamount to someone who steals your wallet, takes all the money out, gives the empty wallet back to you, and then tells you that you should be grateful to them because you have your wallet."

Obama says he supports striking the retroactive immunity clause from the bill, but he never says he would vote against the bill if the effort fails. An adviser to the Obama campaign, a lawyer named Greg Craig, told James Risen of The New York Times that "This was a deliberative process, and not something that was shooting from the hip. . . . Obviously, there was an element of what's possible here. But he concluded that with FISA expiring, that it was better to get a compromise than letting the law expire."'

What is exasperating and disturbing is that the FISA law is not expiring. The only thing that expired is the faulty Protect America Act passed by the Republican Congress that was--until Maryland's own Steny Hoyer stepped up with his supposed "compromise" that hands President Bush everything he wants--dead, dead, dead. There is no sunset date in the original FISA legislation, and it has been amended any number of times to keep up with changes in technology. That a campaign spokesman would deliberately make such a deceptive statement about such a crucial issue to a Times reporter is disgusting.

Among journalists, when a reporter seems to find no fault with a politician, that person is said to be "in the tank." I find a lot to like about Barack Obama--indeed, he may be one of the best candidates the Democrats have fielded in generations. In his statement on the FISA sellout, Obama says, "Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That's OK. But I think it is worth pointing out that our agreement on the vast majority of issues that matter outweighs the differences we may have." Perhaps that is true.

But there's no chance I'm "in the tank" for him now.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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