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Get FISA Right in the Middle of a Blind Spot on Obama

This morning, I received an e-mail inviting me to visit a website called Get FISA Right. With Repeal FISA lying in a coma, I went to take a look. The group describes itself as “non-partisan”:

Our members are a diverse group of nonpartisans from all walks of life who believe that the rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution should be protected.

But defines itself in terms of support for Barack Obama:

Together, with Barack Obama as our President, yes we can restore the Constitutional rights of all Americans and roll back Bush’s abuses of power…

We are a proud group of (organized but unofficial) Obama supporters who believe in Obama’s call for hope and a new kind of politics. We are asking Congress and all Americans to reject the politics of fear, revisit this flawed bill, and safeguard the people’s rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Unfortunately, the group isn’t really “asking Congress and All Americans to reject the politics of fear, revisit this flawed bill, and safeguard the people’s rights.” Its main organizing effort has been to raise money to place TV advertisements on the air. One of these advertisements inaccurately declares that “Republican Senators All Voted for FISA”, failing to mention the fact that John McCain actually didn’t “vote for FISA” (more accurately termed the FISA Amendments Act), or the fact that a considerable number of Democrats including Barack Obama actually voted for the FISA Amendments Act. Another of these advertisements declares:

For 200 years, the Bill of Rights has protected our freedoms. During the past 8 years, the Bush administration listened to Americans’ phone calls and read their emails without a warrant. If elected President, John McCain would do the same. Don’t let our Constitution die.

To reiterate, John McCain actually didn’t vote for the FISA Amendments Act. Barack Obama not only voted for the FISA Amendments Act, but on July 14 of this year declared his intention to employ the program authorized by it if elected. Don’t worry your little heads none, he wrote; as President, he could be trusted to wield the Act’s unchecked authority properly:

I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.

Barack Obama, another “trust me” president. Didn’t we learn from the example of George W. Bush that “trust me” is never enough? Apparently the “nonpartisan” people at Get FISA Right didn’t. They put together an advertisement criticizing John McCain and another one criticizing the Republican Party, but they never got around to airing an advertisement criticizing pro-FISA Democrats generally or Barack Obama particularly.

I’ll keep one eye on Get FISA Right. Now that Barack Obama is set to become president, will the “nonpartisan” group do something when he uses the FISA Amendments Act in the manner he “deems necessary”? I sincerely hope so. Until then, concerned Americans should work independently to make sure that no president — even the Historic President of Hope and Change — wields arbitrary authority over the citizens who employ and house him.

1 comment to Get FISA Right in the Middle of a Blind Spot on Obama

  • jon

    Thanks for the post, and apologies for the belated response …

    First of all, in terms of the partisan issue: Get FISA Right started as a group of Obama supporters organizing on my.barackobama.com last summer. Looking forward, there’s been consistent discussion about whether and when we should shift in a non-partisan direction. As a result, our self-description is somewhat schizophrenic on this front. Stay tuned.

    Its main organizing effort has been to raise money to place TV advertisements on the air.

    Our highest-profile organizing effort was becoming the largest group on my.barackobama.com back in July, writing an open letter to Obama, and having him respond — with more information than he had given to the press, and a commitment to oppose telecom immunity. Since then, we’ve also done the following:

    - a prototype “50-state strategy” on Facebook, pressuring Senators of all parties before the July vote

    - worked to influence the Democratic platform (via the July/August platform meetings) and netroots platform

    - supported Strange Bedfellows with their August money bomb

    - done two rounds of advertising, the non-partisan “Don’t let our Constitution die” ad right after the vote and the partisan “John McCain would do the same”/”Republican Senators voted for FISA” ads we ran in St. Paul during the Republican National Convention.

    I don’t think we’ve given Obama a free ride in the past, and I don’t think we will in the future either.

    One of these advertisements inaccurately declares that “Republican Senators All Voted for FISA”, failing to mention the fact that John McCain actually didn’t “vote for FISA

    My On the air in St. Paul! discusses why we chose a partisan focus for these ads, and includes the party-line breakdown of votes on telecom immunity (Repulicans: 46 for, 1 against) and the bill itself (47 for, 0 against). While McCain didn’t show up for the vote, he strongly backed immunity and the FAA legislation — for example in a letter to NRO this June from his advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin, which endorses the Nixon/Bush “Article II” theory (that the president can ignore whatever laws he wants) as the underpinnings for that position. Equating this with the Democrats (where a 75%+ of the Senators opposed immunity and a thin majority opposed the legislation) or Obama (who as you say supports the overall extension of surveillance power but opposes immunity and has not claimed Article II exemption) is over-simplifying. Which isn’t to let them off the hook, of course …

    jon

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