Friday, July 11, 2008

FISA, Democrats, and False Hope

Yesterday's vote in favor of increased federal spy powers and immunity for past lawbreaking by the telecommunications industry was never in doubt, though you wouldn't know it from the reactions on the left. Bloggers dedicated to supporting the Democratic Party no matter how many times they're kicked in the teeth by it seem to be still tied to the delusion that the Democrats are somehow free of lobbyist influence and opposed to federal power. Barack Obama, especially, has given a swift kick to his status of blogosphere Messiah.

Except for those rare few who see the Democratic Party for what it is, a beacon of false opposition, most are convinced that the solution to the elimination of the Constitution as a legal document is simply electing better Democrats. A quick run through of history proves that folly in short order, however. As with foreign policy, the national security arena is one in which the rhetoric suggesting otherwise does very little in the way of obfuscating the reality of the Democratic Party. Namely, that when in power they are no less susceptible to the lure of unbridled Executive power than the Republicans. After all, it was Truman who set the wheels of the surveillance state in motion with the creation of the NSA.

Nobody embodies this guiding principle more than Barack Obama, who, as a brilliant tactician, is well aware that his electability rides in positions other than those of Daily Kos. IOZ summed up Obama's position on the FISA bill both succinctly and accurately a week ago.

Why is Barack Obama now defending and supporting the "FISA compromise"? Because odds are that Barack Obama is going to be the next President of the United States.

That is, Obama understands that any precedent set to limit Executive power now would essentially be a vote to lessen his own powers in January.

Even Russ Feingold, one of the most vocal opponents of the bill, succumbed to delusion on Wednesday's Countdown. Speaking to Rachael Maddow, Feingold expressed ill-founded hope that the Constitutional damage would be reversed or resolved by a "Democratic president with respect for the rule of law." [I'm paraphrasing] The obvious fact that seemingly escapes Feingold's grasp is that that hypothetical president will be Obama, who hours before had voted against that rule of law. It should pass without argument that pinning one's hopes to the man who had eradicated those hopes just hours before is evidence of insanity.

Jack Balkin also points to another aspect of the 'compromise,' that of the singular focus on telecom immunity to the exclusion of its other substantial incursions on Constitutional rights.

Most Americans don't realize that the FISA compromise comes in two parts. The first part greatly alters FISA by expanding the executive's ability to wiretap and engage in much broader searches of communications than were permissible under the law before. It essentially gives congressional blessing to some but not all of what the executive was doing under President Bush. President Obama will like having Congress authorize these new powers. He'll like it just fine. People aren't paying as much attention to this part of the bill. But they should, because it will define the law of surveillance going forward. It is where your civil liberties will be defined for the next decade.

Those infringements are not insignificant. Just to use one example, the government will now be able to eavesdrop on all communications from the US to foreign countries. Surely a step well beyond having to obtain a warrant after offering reasonable evidence that an individual was a foreign agent. Contrary to the misleading rhetoric coming from the right, it's fair to say that everyone eavesdropped on will not be a terrorist, and could just as well be any US citizen talking to friends or relatives overseas. For conservatives, anyone spied on is a terrorist simply for that fact. They have attempted to turn the definition of terrorist into a tautology.

Any belief that President Bush is the first Executive who's attempted to consolidate his own power is poorly founded, as is the belief that a Democratic President would be any more adverse to doing so than a Republican one. Increasing federal power is a staple of our American republic, and not relegated to one party or the other. One need only look at the methods undertaken by that liberal hegemon, FDR, to institute his New Deal policies to see evidence of this point.

In the end, Congress wasn't content to merely flush any accountability for Bush's lawbreaking down the memory hole, it saw fit to increase the already-expanding powers of the Executive branch to the point where the Constitution is nothing more than a fading memory. Perhaps in due time, Congress will succeed in creating generations where the only mention of the document is found in history textbooks and folklore.

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