Barack Obama has betrayed everyone, left and right and center, black and white and brown, by voting for the FISA “compromise” that repeals the Fourth Amendmentment. Everyone should denounce him—he is unfit to be President, at least as unfit as McCain, from the standpoint of the Constitution.

Joan Walsh

Thursday July 10, 2008 06:49 EDT

Betrayed by Obama

What an interesting week: I came back from vacation to find the two presumptive presidential nominees running away from their bases. Suddenly John McCain is evading, not embracing, the media, limiting access and getting testy with the very people whose formerly friendly coverage made him a popular “maverick.” Meanwhile, Barack Obama is complaining that his “friends on the left” just don’t understand him — he’s not moving to the center, he is “no doubt” a progressive, just one who now supports the scandalous FISA “compromise” and Antonin Scalia’s views on gun rights and the death penalty, no longer plans to accept public campaign funding, and wants to make sure women aren’t feigning mental distress to get a “partial-birth” abortion (the right’s despicable term of choice; the correct phrase is either late-term or third-trimester abortion).

I actually have some sympathy for Obama. He was never the great progressive savior that his fans either thought he was, or peddled to their readers. While Arianna Huffington and Markos Moulitsas and Tom Hayden were hyping him as the progressive alternative to Hillary Clinton, Obama was getting away with backing a healthcare bill less progressive than Clinton’s, adopting GOP talking points on the Social Security “crisis” and double-talking on NAFTA. So why shouldn’t he think his “friends on the left” will put up with his abandoning other progressive causes?

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.

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.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, voted against the FISA bill, but I think “what ifs” are unproductive. Matthew Yglesias’ self-justifying fiction that, if she was the nominee, she’d have done what Obama did, is silly. But none of us can really know she’d have done the right thing in Obama’s shoes. Since I believe Clinton’s craven vote to authorize the Iraq war in 2002 cost her the Democratic nomination, I do find myself wondering whether she learned her lesson about caving in to GOP threats. It’s funny how so many defeated Democrats — Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards and now Clinton — seem to become more progressive after they learn that pandering can’t protect them from the attacks of the GOP and its friends in the media. Let’s hope Obama doesn’t have to learn that lesson the same way.

Of course, the only thing more offensive than Obama’s yes vote on FISA was McCain’s decision to skip the vote entirely — and then trash Obama for “flip-flopping” on FISA. Unfortunately, Obama did flip-flop on FISA, but McCain didn’t bother to show up. So far, this has been a really dispiriting campaign. Part of the problem, I think, is that the two finalists are guys beloved by the media, who’ve had a fairly free ride to here. With their rivals out of the way, they’re getting more scrutiny, and it’s not all adoring. Having won impressive underdog victories, neither campaign seems ready for prime time. I know one thing, I’d really like to vote for the guy who said this:

“This Administration has put forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand. When I am president, there will be no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens; no more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime; no more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. Our Constitution works, and so does the FISA court.”

Too bad Obama doesn’t believe that anymore.


— Joan Walsh

One response to “Barack Obama has betrayed everyone, left and right and center, black and white and brown, by voting for the FISA “compromise” that repeals the Fourth Amendmentment. Everyone should denounce him—he is unfit to be President, at least as unfit as McCain, from the standpoint of the Constitution.

  1. Progressive Survival Manual for Obama’s Bumpy Ride

    Keep Your Eyes on the Prize:
    Stop the War, Stop McCain, Vote Obama 2008

    By Carl Davidson
    Progressives for Obama

    I think the conclusions of many of the dire concerns and warnings about Obama’s recent rightward tilt are on target–we get what we want, some of it anyway, not by relying on saviors, but the hard old-fashioned way, organizing our own clout at the base and building upward. The FDR story–‘I agree with you, now make me do it–is a case in point.

    But I wouldn’t say Obama’s ‘unprincipled’ or ‘deeply flawed.’ Obama is what he is. He is a ‘high road’ industrial policy capitalist and multipolar globalist–just read his Cooper Union speech a while back. Clinton is a garden-variety corporate liberal capitalist, which got her on the board of Walmart for years. And McCain is a US hegemonist and an unreconstructed neoliberal capitalist–‘state all evil, market all good’–that kind that says ‘We’re in business to make money, not steel, so we’ll gut these plants and speculate in oil futures, and the workers and towns be damned.’ In other words, the ones who ‘cut taxes’ by putting everything on the China Visa card and got us into this mess.

    Actually, truth be told, Obama’s brand of capitalism is best for productive businesses, as opposed to speculators, and does least harm to the working class. He’s never been a socialist, anti-imperialist, or even a consistent progressive or social democrat. That doesn’t mean we can’t press him to be better at what he is or asserts, as in ending the war in 2009, and in promoting and building infrastructure for new green businesses and green jobs for youth. All those solar panels and wave and wind turbines have to be built somewhere by someone. And he has started doing more of this recently, along with his other-direction tacts to the center-right.

    We need not be surprised, and in fact it’s one of the reasons Tom Hayden, Bill Fletcher, Danny Glover and Barbara Ehrenreich set up ‘Progressives for Obama’ in the first place, knowing this would happen. IF you’re not a regular reader, do yourself a favor an become armed on how to support Obama critically. Meanwhile, when your task is to win a majority of Democratic votes and defeat other Democrats in a primary, you put your policy package together in one way. When your task is to win a solid majority of all voters–progressive and center–to isolate and defeat the right, you put it together another way.

    It’s called politics. What we want to urge, I think, are value-centered politics, where you have a core that keeps you anchored, and avoid any 180 degree turns from one audience to another.

    So far, Obama’s been fairly true to his own core values. But we need to understand that while our values overlap with his, they are not entirely the same. As I said earlier, he is what he is, and it will still be the greatest popular electoral victory in my lifetime if we can help put him in the White House.

    A far more interesting struggle opens up, front and center, the next day. But that’s a problem I’ve also been looking forward to having all my life. We best start preparing for it right now by working this campaign in a way that builds our own strength, as well as puts him over the top.

    Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Stop the War, Stop McCain, Vote Obama 2008

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