Ever since the Senate vote on the FISA POS yesterday, I’ve been trying to puzzle it out, and I still don’t get it.
Why did Barack Obama vote for the bill?
What could possibly have motivated him to vote the way he did?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m plenty ticked off at all the other Democrats who caved to pressure from either the White House or (more likely) campaign contributors associated with the telecoms. They’re all on my shit list at the moment, and the Day of Retribution shall come, when they shall be Mocked Most Thoroughly for their total lack of backbone, intestinal fortitude, and/or principles.
I write a mean poison pen letter.*
But Obama’s decision to vote in favor of the bill completely mystifies me. I really cannot come up with a single rational explanation for his decision to support this bill.
It was a foregone conclusion that, no matter how he voted on the matter, McCain (who managed not to vote on the bill) will criticize his vote during the campaign. If he voted against it, he was soft on terrorism. If he voted for it, he was flip-flopping. (And by the way, McCain: Hello? Pot? Kettle? Glass houses?) So I’m not seeing much gain there.
Some have theorized that this is part of his effort to move a bit toward the center, since he is currently being portrayed by some on the right as being the senator who is furthest to the left on the political spectrum. But aside from those of us on the left who are active in these matters, my sense is that this issue hasn’t drawn a huge amount attention from the middle-of-the-road crowd. So the way I see it, he alienated his base on the left for very little potential gain in the middle.
And boy, has he ever alienated his base. From today’s Wall Street Journal, we have this little tidbit:
Obama’s own campaign Web site has become a hotbed of debate over his support for the compromise bill, spawning four groups in which opponents of Obama’s position vastly outnumber supporters—22,957 to 38. The “Get FISA Right” group blog on MyBarackObama.com was flooded with disappointed supporters after Wednesday’s vote, with more than 60 writing in within 90 minutes of the vote.
“Christopher from Cleveland” wrote, “All those people saying that we should relax, and take it easy, since it’s only one issue, are wrong because Barack is breaking his promise to us!”
“Dan in Holland,” said he was a Michigan voter who would no longer vote for Obama, adding “I just lost an enormous amount of respect for Mr. Obama and his vote on the FISA bill and the amendment to strip telecom immunity.”
Certainly, the blogosphere is up in arms about how he voted. Promises of no further campaign contributions and refusal to vote in November abound. (But really, are these people likely not to vote? Hell, no. When it comes down to it, I think we can all agree that what we do not need is for the next four years to look like the last eight years.)
Perhaps he fears a terrorist attack will take place on US soil between now and November. If there is one, a “no” vote on this measure really could hurt him in the polls. (See my previous posts on terror management theory for why.) So that might explain it.
There’s another possibility, and it’s a disturbing one. Maybe he actually wanted the measure to pass. Maybe he wanted to have that warrantless wiretapping ability should he win the election in November.
For the record, I think that the last option is pretty unlikely. I don’t believe we’ve all misread him that badly. I don’t want to believe that.
Still, with his vote on this issue, I think he’s changed the dynamic in the race a bit. It was nice having a candidate we could get excited about, instead of feeling like we were voting for the lesser of two evils. And now, I think a lot of us are going to be asking the question, “What else is he going to change his position on?”
Hopefully, by this November, he’ll have reassured us all a bit in that regard. There’s plenty of time between now and then to convince us that he’s still the leader we saw in the primaries.
But we’re not going to forget about this. He voted to betray the constitution, just like everyone else who voted yes on that goddamn bill. He sold us out like the rest of them.
* Hey, I’m a graduate student of limited means, living in Redstatesville, which is a drive of approximately thirteen and two-thirds cassette tapes** from Washington, D.C. (if you allow for traffic). My response options are somewhat limited. Sometimes a Strongly Worded Letter is the best I can manage.
** Some people measure travel distance in miles. I measure it in music. Though that’s becoming more difficult, because lately, on long drives, I listen to my iPod instead of cassette tapes, and that’s just not very convenient as a measure of distance, because you have to count actual songs which is kind of a pain. On the other hand, with gas prices going up the way they have, long roadtrips will soon become a thing of the past, so the methodology for calculating distances becomes kind of moot.