Blast from the past
"My job this morning is to be so persuasive...that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack," he told a crowd of about 300 Ivy Leaguers--and, by the looks of it, a handful of locals who managed to gain access to what was supposed to be a students-only event.
A few months later:
For one thing, under an Obama presidency, Americans will be able to leave behind the era of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and "wiretaps without warrants," he said. (He was referring to the lingering legal fallout over reports that the National Security Agency scooped up Americans' phone and Internet activities without court orders, ostensibly to monitor terrorist plots, in the years after the September 11 attacks.)
It's hardly a new stance for Obama, who has made similar statements in previous campaign speeches, but mention of the issue in a stump speech, alongside more frequently discussed topics like Iraq and education, may give some clue to his priorities.
In our own Technology Voters' Guide, when asked whether he supports shielding telecommunications and Internet companies from lawsuits accusing them of illegal spying, Obama gave us a one-word response: "No."
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) today announced his support for a sweeping intelligence surveillance law that has been heavily denounced by the liberal activists who have fueled the financial engines of his presidential campaign.
In his most substantive break with the Democratic Party's base since becoming the presumptive nominee, Obama declared he will support the bill when it comes to a Senate vote, likely next week, despite misgivings about legal provisions for telecommunications corporations that cooperated with the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program of suspected terrorists.
In so doing, Obama sought to walk the fine political line between GOP accusations that he is weak on foreign policy -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called passing the legislation a "vital national security matter" -- and alienating his base.
"Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay. So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program," Obama said in a statement hours after the House approved the legislation 293-129.
This marks something of a reversal of Obama's position from an earlier version of the bill, which was approved by the Senate Feb. 12, when Obama was locked in a fight for the Democratic nomination with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).
Obama missed the February vote on that FISA bill as he campaigned in the "Potomac Primaries," but issued a statement that day declaring "I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty."
The FISA vote was a memorable moment and one that sparked some particularly nasty infighting, even among a few Obama supporters. I was extremely unimpressed, as was Dday, who wrote here in those days. Atrios even anointed Obama "wanker of the day." But the usual frenzied beat down of all criticism ensued and we were never able to muster the sustained opposition to the president on this issue that might have made him think twice about pursuing these policies. Spilled milk. But there's a lesson in it: listen closely.
He was very careful with his words in that earlier statement. And his words implied the opposite of what he has ended up doing . (He used similar misdirection about deficit reduction and the Social Security issue on the stump last year.) He's a politician and a very, very good one. And much of the liberal left has never been able to really hear him.
This was what they loved:
My job this morning is to be so persuasive...that a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany, and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Barack
And that's how it happened for a lot of people --- an emotional experience that transcended politics. It's heady stuff. But it gives an awful lot of power to a leader inclined to protect the bipartisan status quo.
I'm pretty sure that something like that won't happen again any time soon. Indeed, the next Democratic nominee will likely not get the slightest benefit of the doubt as the pendulum swings hard the other way. And more importantly, Barack Obama is a once in a generation politician who had a very special relationship with the grassroots of the Democratic Party. I meet people all the time in civilian life who adore him. Most presidents don't have that deep and enduring bond with their voters.
But even if one feels that bond, it's a good idea to pay close attention to any politician, even the ones you like and admire. They are often saying something that isn't quite as clear cut as your gut assumes. After all, most of them are lawyers*. They're trained that way.
*No knock on lawyers. It's in the job description.