Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama's Telephone Switch

July 3, 2008, 4:30 p.m.

Obama's Turn

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn

-- Pete Seeger, "Turn, Turn, Turn"

The primary was the "time to build up," "a time to dance." Now, it appears, the general election campaign is the "time to break down" and our "time to mourn."

What a shame.

I began predicting on June 22 (see the entries linked below) that Senator Obama's moves to the right risked the decimation of his "brand" ("change," "turn the page," "hope," a "new politics") and along with it the loss of his greatest asset: the enthusiastic support of those of all ages who accepted that his were promises we really could "believe in" -- but especially the young, first-time voters.

His sharp flips to the right now include everything from the trivial sporting of a flag lapel pin, to the more serious issues of NAFTA, public financing of campaigns (and bundling), government funding of faith-based programs, the death penalty, Israel, tax cuts for corporations, regulation of guns, FISA and immunity for telephone companies caught illegally spying on Americans. And we've scarcely concluded the first month following the primary.

. . . To which we now -- I've discovered since writing this -- must add Iraq as well:

Sen. Barack Obama left open the possibility of slowing his promised, 16-month withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, saying he would consult with military commanders on an upcoming trip to the region to ensure a withdrawal would keep troops safe and Iraq stable.
Jonathan Weisman, "Obama Softens on Iraq Withdrawal Timeline," Washington Post/The Trail, July 3, 2008.

What a loss. What an incredibly high price to pay for abandonment of principle -- especially, ironically, in light of the pragmatic data that the odds were he would have received more general election votes from where he was standing than from the pit into which he has now fallen.

Today's further confirmation of my concerns is reflected in the excerpts below from James Risen's story in yesterday's New York Times:


Nicholas Johnson, "Change We Can No Longer Believe In," June 22, 2008

Nicholas Johnson, "Holding Obama's Feet to the Fireside Chat,"
June 24, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "The Bundling Business," June 26, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Will the Real Obama Stand Up -- For Us?" June 27, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Pragmatic Idealism," June 28, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama's Geometry: Triangulation," June 30, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama's Move to Right Shows Self-Defeating Weakness," July 1, 2008.

Nicholas Johnson, "Obama's Telephone Switch,"
July 3, 2008.]


Senator Barack Obama’s decision to support legislation granting legal immunity to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants has led to an intense backlash among some of his most ardent supporters.

Thousands of them are now using the same grass-roots organizing tools previously mastered by the Obama campaign to organize a protest against his decision.

In recent days, more than 7,000 Obama supporters have organized on a social networking site on Mr. Obama’s own campaign Web site. They are calling on Mr. Obama to reverse his decision to endorse legislation supported by President Bush to expand the government’s domestic spying powers while also providing legal protection to the telecommunication companies that worked with the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Mr. Obama vowed to fight such legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. But he has switched positions, and now supports a compromise hammered out between the White House and the Democratic Congressional leadership. The bill is expected to come to a vote on the Senate floor next Tuesday. That decision, one of a number made by Mr. Obama in recent weeks intended to position him toward the political center as the general election campaign heats up, has brought him into serious conflict for the first time with liberal bloggers and commentators and his young supporters.

Many of them have seen the issue of granting immunity to the telecommunications companies as a test of principle in their opposition to Mr. Bush’s surveillance program.

“I don’t think there has been another instance where, in meaningful numbers, his supporters have opposed him like this,” said Glenn Greenwald, a writer who opposes Mr. Obama’s new position. “For him to suddenly turn around and endorse this proposal is really a betrayal of what so many of his supporters believed he believed in.” . . .

“The opposition to Obama’s position among his supporters is very widespread,” said Ms. Hamsher, founder of the Web site “His promise to filibuster earlier in the year, and the decision to switch on that is seen as a real character problem. I know people who are really very big Obama supporters are very disillusioned.”

One supporter, Robert Arellano, expressed his anger on the Obama site.

“I have watched your campaign with genuine enthusiasm,” Mr. Arellano wrote, “and I have given you money. For the first time in my life, I have sensed the presence of a presidential candidate who might actually bring some meaningful change to the corrupt cesspool of national politics. But your about-face on the FISA bill genuinely angers and alarms me.” . . .

Several activists and bloggers predicted that Mr. Obama’s move toward the center on some issues could sharply reduce the intensity of support he has enjoyed from liberal activists. Such enthusiasm helped power his effort to secure the Democratic nomination, and it has been one of his campaign’s most important tools for fund-raising and organizing around the country.

Markos Moulitsas, a liberal blogger and founder of the Daily Kos Web site, said he had decided to cut back on the amount of money he would contribute to the Obama campaign because of the FISA reversal.

“I will continue to support him,” Mr. Moulitsas said in an interview. “But I was going to write him a check, and I decided I would rather put that money with Democrats who will uphold the Constitution.” . . .
(I have a friend who told me almost exactly the same thing as Moulitsas. And I was told of an Obama staffer who conceded to a volunteer that she was hearing the same thing from her own grandparents.) James Risen, "Obama Voters Protest His Switch on Telecomm Immunity," New York Times, July 2, 2008.

It's really sad, is what it is.

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