Wednesday, July 09, 2008

For a Valiant and Principled Opposition


If the Senate's passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) had gone otherwise thanks to Sen. Barack Obama's (D-Ill) valiant and principled opposition, we would not be moving on quite so quickly as we are now.

Obama would be hunkering down taking on fire from FOX, and everything to the left of it (which is everything), for his softness on terror and latest manifestation as the "National Journal's" MOST LIBERAL SENATOR.

Although just one vote in 97 total, Obama's support of (p)resident Geo.w.bsh's snooping wish list rightly earned him special mention in the "New York Times," account of the tally:

"The issue put Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in a particularly precarious spot," the piece observed. "After long opposing the idea of immunity for the phone companies in the wiretapping operation, he voted for the plan on Wednesday. His reversal last month angered many of his most ardent supporters, who organized an unsuccessful drive to get him to reverse his position once again. And it came to symbolize what civil liberties saw as a 'capitulation' by Democratic leaders to pressure from the White House in an election year."

Hillary Clinton, whose political antennae are nothing if not wacky, voted against the bill.

Of course, Obama knew he could easily survive criticism on his left flank and gain from it politically.

And sure enough, he was out on the road yesterday, asserting his "progressive" credentials, while painting himself as a post-ideological guy willing to reach out, or occupy the center, on certain issues crucial to the country.

Bully for him, bad for America.

Rather than attacks from the right, what we're getting is a lot explaining from Democrats who should know better. It is easy comprehend. They have a great candidate running against a rather hapless one and nobody wants to rock the boat.

In a wonderful article, "Barack by the Books," Laura Miller of "Salon" says we could have seen this Obama in his choice of literature.

We say "wonderful" article since its subject matter fits well within highwayscribery's tagline of "Politics, Poetry, and Prose," and because it gives the candidate's cynical vote some intellectual underpinning.

That's important for a party of thinking elitists.

"If Obama is elected, he'll be one of the most literary presidents in recent memory," Miller writes, and that takes some of the sting out of his FISA vote, although it won't work forever.

She details the Illinois Democrat's heavy reading during two years at Occidental College in Los Angeles, two more at Columbia University, and, even later as a Chicago community organizer, where he lived in spartan fashion, devouring philosophy and literature.

Those readings included Toni Morrison, Herman Melville, and one of highwayscribery's favorites, E.L. Doctorow, whom the article says was also an Obama favorite until being dethroned by Shakespeare.

A big influence was Chicagoan Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals," which we are not familiar with. Miller spends some time on Alinsky whose rules were all about practicality, an acceptance of the toilet bowl politics can be, and the value of a good compromise.

She notes that groups formed on the Alinsky model, such as ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) "get things done," which is to say they give something up to get something else and sometimes get called on their backsliding or shortsightedness in the process.

"In the 1980s," Miller writes, "when Obama was organizing on Chicago's South Side, the pieties of the '60s-era leftism -- from identity politics to the idea that, provided with the right social environment, people can be rendered peaceful, industrious and altruistic -- had become kind of dogma. Alinsky's ruthless demolishing of these and other utopian illusions would have been even more bracing then than it was when "Rules for Radicals" was first published, at the height of the counterculture's idealism."

Silly counterculture.

Reinhold Niebur's "Moral Man and Immoral Society," is another book Obama likes that highwayscribery hasn't read, but we can boil down Miller's paragraphs on this philosopher to the fact he was leftist, but realist, with a theo-political point of view that empowered Bushian neocons in the lead-up to "Iraq II: The Endless Occupation."

Still another tome popular with Obama is Doris Kearn Goodwin's "Team of Rivals," which depicts Abraham Lincoln as a savvy politician who kept his enemies close, made them part of his political project.

Miller suggests that Honest Abe's approach is akin to the Obama campaign's "primary selling point," and the prism through which his disappointing reversals on FISA, Iraq withdrawal, and gun control can be viewed.

"American conservatives are not fools," she falsely intones, "and while a sympathetic ear and a considered reception of their ideas may turn down the temperature in the debates between left and right, sooner or later they will require something more substantial."

And, of course, there is an election to be won.

The blogger at "This Week with Barack Obama," has this to say about liberal disenchantment with the FISA stance:

"We now have a moment in time to move full force to the White House, down to the local races and get the 'D' in those slots. Sorry, I don't like Obama's stance on FISA, but I will be DAMNED if I am going to sit on my laurels over a bill that most of America not only don't know about but could give a damn about. Should it be this way? No, but I have learned that you can not win this war, but you must pick the battles that you can win. This was not one of them, in my view."

And Miller concludes that, "bipartisanship means that sometimes the other side -- those people you've come to regard as the devil incarnate over the past 30 years -- will get what they want and you won't."

Which is all well, good, and rather predictable.

highwayscribery has this to say:

If the "Yes We Can," speech will amount to more than fodder for a cool music video, if together with our candidate we really can "heal this nation" and "repair this world," then folks need to know that a bill like FISA is the wrong way to go about it.

They need to know that if compromising means giving an administration that would appear, on the merits, to be criminal in its defiance of the laws protecting us, then it is not worth it. That if bipartisanship means losing now and again, it should not have been on this issue.

highwayscribery sees no reciprocity in this compromise. The windfall profit tax on oil companies failed, the war drones on, the administration refuses to respect congressional subpoenas, and the Republican Party has broken the record for filibusters in the Senate.

Being centrist is easy as giving the other guy what he wants and Democrats don't need the White House to continue that practice. They need someone who uses his unique position to move the center and to reassert what's truly precious about our country.

After eight years of having things stuffed down our throats, the same policies are no easier to swallow coming from the new guy because he's for universal health care, is younger, or African-American.

It's still spying and its still right-wing, police-state stuff.

We will vote for and help fund Senator Obama. It's not about that. It's about seeing where the "change" is going to be and it's about divining what he's made of.

It would be change if our guy were open to hearing the opinions of those who helped get him where he is, and change his political calculation on their behalf.

It would be change were Obama to promote progressives rather than count them as a lock and less important than those who "don't care" about a bill that makes spying on them legal, if never correct.

And it would be change if people who support a candidate made demands of him based on policy rather than sitting by with the simplistic goal of beating the other team.

We've watched Republicans, who knew better, sell-off their every principle to ensure w.'s repeated victories over the hated and "un-American" liberals. Getting into the White House to behave with the same slavish passivity would be to buy a pig in poke.

John Powers of the "L.A. Weekly," who followed the Obama campaign throughout the mano-a-mano with Hillary, said in February, "I'd feel a lot better about him if he'd ever cast a courageous vote."

So would we.

4 comments:

Real History Lisa said...

Amen, Scribe. Well said.

the highway scribe said...

thank you for your attention and commisseration, lisa

ahickpoet said...

I'm not crazy about the telecom spying, but I think it's problematic to lay it at the feet of telecom corporations. I have a problem with prosecuting anyone for doing what a government agency asked them to do, whether it's an individual or a business. That doesn't mean it's right to do it, but what resistant do any of us have against the Department of Homeland Defense?

the highway scribe said...

dear ahickpoet,

None whatsoever.

the scribe