Democratic leaders in Congress are poised to grant new spying powers to President Bush and arrange retroactive amnesty for telecommunications companies accused of illegal surveillance, according to a deal announced Thursday evening. Today's New York Times describes the legislation, which the House could vote on today, as "the most significant revision of surveillance law in 30 years" and a "major victory" for the lame duck president. If passed, the bill would constitute the largest capitulation by Democratic leaders since winning control of Congress, an especially striking setback as Democratic voters rally around a presidential nominee who has flatly opposed Bush's spying policies -- and repeatedly promised to challenge the corruption, doubletalk and "politics of fear" that rule Washington.
Yet Barack Obama has been mostly silent as the House caved into White House demands for more surveillance power this week. He has advocated civil liberties and accountability during previous clashes over surveillance, voting against a White House spying bill in August, but Obama has sidestepped the issue this week, despite pleas from supporters. "If Obama remains missing much longer, it may be necessary to issue an Amber Alert for him," wrote Glenn Greenwald, an attorney and Salon blogger who rallied activists to raise over $115,000 in two days to run primaries against Democratic incumbents who undermine the rule of law.
Obama's quiescence on this fundamental issue is disappointing, but not new. In February, I criticized him and Clinton for going MIA during an earlier spying stand-off, when a coalition of liberal incumbents, netroots activists and the civil liberties groups ACLU and EFF successfully beat back Bush's threats to stop a similar bill. Now things are just worse, for Obama and the Congress.
Obama has a much larger mandate to lead the party, yet he is ducking this battle. There is no rationale for Congress to fundamentally alter surveillance policy for Bush's last five months in office, but instead of doing oversight they are granting him more power. The Supreme Court just issued a historic opinion rebuffing Bush and Congress for compromising the Constitution, through the President's lawless detention policies and the Democratic Congress' attempt to authorize them in the Military Commissions Act, yet neither branch appears chastened. And politically, the Democrats' promise of change, reform and accountability risks a hollow ring when they continue to endorse more of the same corporate handouts and failed Bush agenda.
From The Nation.