July 10th, 2008
Glenn Greenwald, as ever, sums up the tragedy of yesterday’s Senate adoption of the Systematic Destruction of Privacy Act of 2008 (known in polite circles as the FISA bill). His title describes the bill exactly: Congress votes to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, legalize warrantless eavesdropping.
The Democratic-led Congress this afternoon voted to put an end to the NSA spying scandal, as the Senate approved a bill — approved last week by the House — to immunize lawbreaking telecoms, terminate all pending lawsuits against them, and vest whole new warrantless eavesdropping powers in the President. The vote in favor of the new FISA bill was 69-28. Barack Obama joined every Senate Republican (and every House Republican other than one) by voting in favor of it, while his now-vanquished primary rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton, voted against it. John McCain wasn’t present for any of the votes, but shared Obama’s support for the bill. The bill will now be sent to an extremely happy George Bush, who already announced that he enthusiastically supports it, and he will sign it into law very shortly.
Greenwald reminds us how Obama directly lied to us, back when he needed progressive primary votes:
Obama’s vote in favor of cloture, in particular, cemented the complete betrayal of the commitment he made back in October when seeking the Democratic nomination. Back then, Obama’s spokesman — in response to demands for a clear statement of Obama’s views on the spying controversy after he had previously given a vague and noncommittal statement — issued this emphatic vow:
To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.
But the bill today does include retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. Nonetheless, Obama voted for cloture on the bill — the exact opposition of supporting a filibuster — and then voted for the bill itself. A more complete abandonment of an unambiguous campaign promise is difficult to imagine. I wrote extensively about Obama’s support for the FISA bill, and what it means, earlier today.
Greenwald reminds us that the Democrats are paying:
Yet again, the Democratic Congress ignored the views of their own supporters in order to comply with the orders and wishes of the Bush administration. It is therefore hardly a surprise that, yesterday, Rasmussen Reports revealed this rather humiliating finding:
Congressional Approval Falls to Single Digits for First Time EverThe percentage of voters who give Congress good or excellent ratings has fallen to single digits for the first time in Rasmussen Reports tracking history. This month, just 9% say Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Most voters (52%) say Congress is doing a poor job, which ties the record high in that dubious category.
But we only have votes, not the money of the lawbreaking telecoms.
Meanwhile, Joan Walsh describes the feelings of many in her aptly titled Betrayed by Obama:
I’ve admired Obama, but I never confused him with a genuine progressive leader. Today I don’t admire him at all. His collapse on FISA is unforgivable. The only thing Obama has going for him this week is that McCain is matching him misstep for misstep. While we’re railing about Obama’s craven vote on FISA — rightfully; Glenn Greenwald is a hero for his work on this topic — McCain was outdoing Dick Cheney with neocon crazy talk, warning that Iran’s test of nine old missiles we already knew they had increases the chances of a “second Holocaust.” Every time I wonder whether I can ultimately vote for Obama in November, given all of his political cave-ins, McCain does something new to make sure I have to.
She continues, drawing out the danger to the Betrayer-In-Chief:
But Obama needs to watch himself. Telling voters they have no place else to go, before he officially has the nomination, is not a winning strategy. That’s what his people told Clinton voters. That’s what they’re saying about opponents of the FISA sellout. That’s the line on those concerned about his “partial-birth” abortion remarks. It’s arrogant — up against the backdrop of Obama’s big plans for an Invesco Field acceptance speech in Denver and a Brandenberg Gate extravaganza in Berlin, I’m starting to worry about grandiosity — and it could backfire.
And, thinking of a variety of issues no doubt, Jesse Jackson goes further, before he apologized:
“See, Barack been…um…talking down to black people on this faith-based…I wanna cut his nuts off.”
See also Jack Balkin’s discussion of the FISA bill in the context of the construction of the National Surveillance State that I have been writing about for years:
Sandy Levinson and I have noted previously that we are in the midst of the creation of a National Surveillance State, which is the logical successor to the National Security State. And we have noted that, like the National Security State before it, the construction of this new form of governance will be a joint effort by the two major parties. It so happens that in 1947, when the National Security Act was passed, the Democrats controlled the Presidency while the Republicans controlled Congress. In this case it is the reverse. But the larger point is that both major political parties are committed to the build up of surveillance programs and technologies for purposes of security and the delivery of government services. We are going to get some form of National Surveillance State. The only question is what kind of state we will get. As of right now, it looks like we will get one that is far less protective of civil liberties than we could have gotten….
I repeat. If you are worried about the future of civil liberties in the emerging National Surveillance State, you should not try to console yourself with the fact that the next President will be a Democrat and not George W. Bush. It’s worth remembering that the last Democratic President we had, Bill Clinton, was not a great supporter of civil liberties. (I was therefore amused to see that his wife, Hillary Clinton decided at the last minute to vote against the bill. Good for her, but I have difficulty believing that the choice was a purely principled one). The mere fact that the next President will be a Democrat– even a liberal Democrat– is no guarantee that he will work hard to protect civil liberties in the emerging National Surveillance State. It is not enough to say that Obama has taught constitutional law before he became a United States Senator; so did Bill Clinton before he ran for governor of Arkansas.