Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Supporting Obama While Disagreeing With Him

So, a little background. My friend Asher and I have had an ongoing and, at times, contentious debate via Facebook regarding my support for Barack Obama. Although I don't mean to pigeonhole either of our political views, it's probably fair to say that Asher is significantly to my Left when it comes to the American political spectrum as it is commonly discussed. He tends to support folks like Dennis Kucinich and Ralph Nader, and worked for the Kucinich campaign during the Presidential primary. He is also extremely critical of mainsteam political candidates from both parties. Now, I'm supporting Obama for a variety of reasons, but I also disagree with him on some things, namely his vote for the FISA compromise that included retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that provided illegal support for the "warrantless wiretapping" program. For a brief review, here's a couple post from Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings, who I think does the best job of summarizing (a) why it matters and (b) what a lot of Obama supporters thought after he came out in support of the FISA compromise.

Asher recently asked me a very good question: (paraphrasing here) "If you say you're still supporting Barack Obama even after he lets you down on the FISA bill, how are you going to hold him accountable on that issue?" I was typing a reply on his Facebook wall, and when I hit the 1000 character limit I realized that it was probably a better idea to drum it into a blog post and send him the link. Because this story gets a little more complicated, it turns out that Asher was illegally wiretapped, he got hold of the list of people in Maine who had their telephone conversations tapped (in his case by Verizon*) and found his name right there. He has subsequently found out from the Maine Civil Liberties Union that the telecommunications immunity provision in the FISA compromise has, in fact, done what it was meant to do and removed his ability to bring legal action against AT&T. I should note that this is my current understanding of the situation, which I will correct if I'm wrong about any of the particulars.

So now I'm left to answer his question, when Obama's (and, of course, quite a few other Senators) support for telecom immunity means that the illegal wiretapping of someone I know, for what I strongly suspect is the crime of being active in left wing politics, goes essentially unpunished. Well, here goes. First and foremost, I'm supporting Obama for a number of reasons, ranging from appreciation for what his candidacy has done for the enfranchisement of young people and minorities to his specific policy positions (which I've read and, with some exceptions, substantially agree) to his "pragmatic realism" on foreign policy. This last is, I suspect, where Asher and I differ most fundamentally in our politics, but that's both a subject for another day and a place where honest people can disagree. I'm also aghast at the half-assed, lazy bullshit that McCain is proposing as domestic policy. That's not reflexive liberalism either, the McCain campaign's dishonesty regarding the fiscal irresponsibility of their proposals is just as responsible for my opposition to John McCain as is my support for Barack Obama. Even if I disagree strongly with Barack Obama on the FISA bill, it's one important issue among many, and I consistently agree with him on the vast majority.

But that gets to the core of Asher's question, given that I do generally agree with him, how do I register my disappointment regarding the FISA vote? It's a good question to consider because, in my experience, you're never going to agree with a politician 100%, and you probably shouldn't. I would argue that if you agree totally with any politician or political position you're likely not critically analyzing the substance of their views and positions. The converse is also true. Despite my strongly held opinions, I can name a few issues where I agree with John McCain, and even one or two where I agree with him and disagree with Obama (i.e. Federal mandates for percentages of ethanol in gasoline. McCain is against them, Obama is for them, I think they're a bad idea).

Asher did a little of the work and turned up one answer. Apparently there are a group of supporters using the "community" portion of the campaign website to voice their opposition. I'll be looking into that, but, as Asher says, if we're by definition supporters then Obama can afford to ignore us. So here's the rest of my answer, in two parts. First of all, I'm going to continue supporting candidates who understand why telecommunications issues are important, from net neutrality to media consolidation to civil liberties in a digital age. That is reflected in my "slate" for the upcoming November in Maine, I'll be voting for Chellie Pingree for Congressional District 1 and Tom Allen for the U.S. Senate, both of whom (I believe) have specifically advocated their support for net neutrality and opposition to the telecom immunity portion of the FISA compromise. I've also supported (with a small financial contribution and some e-mail forwarding of his awesome XKCD-style appeal to the Internet for help) Sean Tevis, a guy running for State Representative in Kansas who is attempting to bring an understanding of these "digital age" issues like net neutrality to his State Government, which I think is a very, very worthy goal. So that's one thing, supporting other candidates at various levels of government who I think will provide leadership on issues like this one in the future. The second thing that I'm going to do is take more responsibility for supporting non-governmental groups who work on these issues, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

So that's my answer. It's imperfect, and not a completely satisfying one, but in a nutshell I can disagree with Obama on FISA because I support a balanced slate of politicians, some of whom are stronger than others on particular issues and also a vigorous community of interest and watchdog groups. It's very much a "checks and balances" answer, but I think that probably accurately reflects my philosophy of government and politics right now (subject to change, as always).

7-24-08: Some minor updates from the original post, namely a more tight summary paragraph.

*7-26-08: Asher clarifies that for some reason it was Verizon that did the wiretapping, although his carrier was AT&T


Asher said...

A few things:

One, you can tell who corporate America has chosen to win by the amount of coverage they get.

Obama and Hillary Clinton got equal treatment by the corporate media, being given a half hour or more each in a two hour debate, while the other 5 candidates were given 5 minutes or less apiece, or were shut out completely.

Currently, Obama has coverage lavished on him by the corporate media. McCain is a ghost whispering in the background.

There is no doubt that Obama is going to win this next election.

First off, I would explain that my journey through the underbelly of the political world has opened my eyes to the structures of power. It's not Democrats vs Republicans, it's a group of wealthy elites vs everybody else.

These elites realize that the GOP is a tired old husk that nobody will vote for, at least not for another 4 years.

The Democrats will enact several bureaucratic social programs that don't work because they were made specifically to funnel our tax dollars into the pockets of the wealthy, to reduce citizen power, and increase government power. Then everybody will be pissed at the Democrats, and they will have forgotten that the Republicans were doing these same things, and they will vote Republican, who will continue to do the same thing.

For more on this trend in the past, do some reasearch into the Clinton years. (NAFTA, the WTO, reducing welfare benefits, reducing access to women's health services)

Lastly, I don't use your same rubric for selecting candidates.

When candidates vote repeatedly to violate the US Constitution, something that they have sworn to protect and uphold, they have broken their oath of office and are not suited to hold any position in public service-- not even dog catcher. They should be Impeached.

Everybody who voted for the FISA bill should be impeached.

L said...

I think it is more that their opposition, whoever it is, should be elected. May not apply in Obama's case.

Asher said...

I didn't remove you from my friend list. I, unlike others, enjoy dialogue, even (especially) when I disagree. I appreciate Socrates.

Facebook had deleted my profile, so I went "blip" out of existance there for a while.

It's not the first time this has happened.

As a victim of wiretapping, I am incredibly frustrated by the stagnation and apathy in congress.

I would urge you to support Cindy Sheehan in her race against Nancy Pelosi. Nancy Pelosi is like a crime boss, in that she can "take people out" as she sees fit.

For instance, she stripped Cynthia McKinney of her privileges after she grilled Donald Rumsfeld about war game activity on 9-11 mimicking the actual attacks.

Nancy Pelosi is the crown log in the logjam in congress. We need to remove her from office if we expect to see any progress.

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