More at the link.
The excuse that Obama's support for this bill is politically shrewd is -- even if accurate -- neither a defense of what he did nor a reason to refrain from loudly criticizing him for it. Actually, it's the opposite. It's precisely because Obama is calculating that he can -- without real consequence -- trample upon the political values of those who believe in the Constitution and the rule of law that it's necessary to do what one can to change that calculus. Telling Obama that you'll cheer for him no matter what he does, that you'll vest in him Blind Faith that anything he does is done with the purest of motives, ensures that he will continue to ignore you and your political interests.
Beyond that, this attitude that we should uncritically support Obama in everything he does and refrain from criticizing him is unhealthy in the extreme. No political leader merits uncritical devotion -- neither when they are running for office nor when they occupy it -- and there are few things more dangerous than announcing that you so deeply believe in the Core Goodness of a political leader, or that we face such extreme political crises that you trust and support whatever your Leader does, even when you don't understand it or think that it's wrong. That's precisely the warped authoritarian mindset that defined the Bush Movement and led to the insanity of the post-9/11 Era, and that uncritical reverence is no more attractive or healthy when it's shifted to a new Leader.
What Barack Obama did here was wrong and destructive. He's supporting a bill that is a full-scale assault on our Constitution and an endorsement of the premise that our laws can be broken by the political and corporate elite whenever the scary specter of The Terrorists can be invoked to justify it. What's more, as a Constitutional Law Professor, he knows full well what a radical perversion of our Constitution this bill is, and yet he's supporting it anyway. Anyone who sugarcoats or justifies that is doing a real disservice to their claimed political values and to the truth.
The excuse that we must sit by quietly and allow him to do these things with no opposition so that he can win is itself a corrupted and self-destructive mentality. That mindset has no end. Once he's elected, it will transform into: "It's vital that Obama keeps his majority in Congress so you have to keep quiet until after the 2010 midterms," after which it will be: "It's vital that Obama is re-elected so you have to keep quiet until after 2012," at which point the process will repeat itself from the first step. Quite plainly, those are excuses to justify mindless devotion, not genuine political strategies.
Edit- And let's put this in perspective:
We have a president with extremely low popularity levels. He is arguably the worst president in American history. His party suffered an historic defeat in the last election. He has broken law after law, promise after promise, told lie after lie. His presidency is a disaster and a disgrace. As he approaches the lameduck stage of his presidency, it can honestly be said that the world is a worse place as a consequence of his presidency. And yet a Democratic majority Congress - a Congress which was voted in because the public was sick of the inability of Republicans loyalists to do anything other than defer to the will of their Leader - is about to give this President (and future presidents) more of our liberty. They are about to set into precedent that lawbreaking deserves immunity if the president ordered it - a principle rejected by the United States at Nuremberg. They are about to give the president telecom amnesty even though he could not get that from a Republican Congress two years ago ... and the Democratic candidate for president who has campaigned on a promise to restore our Constitutional order is going to vote for it!
This is exactly what I was talking about with ideologues being rewarded for being as fiercely ideological and partisan as they like. Can anyone possible imagine the opposite scenario taking place, with a Republican Congress capitulating to the lawbreaking of a Democratic president?
James Madison, in "Memorial and Remonstrance" (1785), argued that
[I]t is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of [the] noblest characteristics of the late Revolution.Ok, what about the 1000th experiment on our liberties?* When will these Democrats in Congress think its time to take alarm? 1004? I'm tired of waiting, and I'm tired of hearing their excuses. In a previous comment I said that:
I don't expect that much from Obama ... I'm not looking for a silver bullet or anything. My hope for the presidential race was for someone who wouldn't continue to shred the Constitution and start more endless wars. I think the real battle is at the Congressional level where we need to get enough reformers elected to where we can turn American back into meritocratic democracy rather than a plutocracy.And that's still what I think. Obama is the best option in the presidential race. But this Congress which has given us this latest disgrace has got to go. And we should continue to hold Obama's feet to the fire when he does things like this.
*I mean this literally. I'm counting signing statements.