In January Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton plainly and unequivocally said that they were deeply troubled by the Foreign Services Intelligence Act. They said it was far too weak in providing protections against the rampant abuses in domestic intelligence gathering operations. They were troubled most by the loose controls on warrantless wiretapping and the provision that granted immunity to telecommunications companies that engaged in reckless and borderline lawless surveillance of any and everyone who was deemed a potential terrorist threat. Clinton and Obama swore that they would not the support the bill with the dangerous lack of civil liberties safeguards. Both voted no on cloture.
But that was in January. Clinton kept her promise and voted against the bill. This is what Clinton said, "Congress must vigorously check and balance the president even in the face of dangerous enemies and at a time of war. That is what sets us apart. And that is what is vital to ensuring that any tool designed to protect us is used - and used within the law - for that purpose and that purpose alone."
Obama said nothing of the kind. How could he? He broke his promise and voted for the bill. Though he got some flak from the left, his fervent backers kicked into gear and did their customary double loops to massage, rationalize, pretty up, and apologize for his broken promise on FISA.
Clinton's opposition statement was straightforward, direct, and did not digress one bit from the words she used back in January to oppose the bill. But while Obama drew praise for his stated opposition in January and apologies for his reversal in July, Clinton drew deafening silence from the still legions of Clinton bashers for her courageous and principled stance.
Clinton had absolutely nothing to gain politically in voting for or against the bill. She is not running for office. She did not have to pander to conservatives, the defense establishment, the telecommunications industry, or the wide segment of voters jittery over a terrorist attack. She certainly didn't have to pander to Move on.org, the Nation, the Daily Kos, the Huffington Post, and the other relentless Hillary critics on the left. She voted conscience and principle. These are the two things that her rabid critics on the left and the right still take giddy delight in smearing her on as sorely lacking, while praising to the skies her opponent for allegedly having these qualities.
Clinton again proved them wrong. She made their Hillary bashing look even more silly and ridiculous. Message to Hillary: take heart you did the right thing, but don't hold your breath waiting for your critics to unloose their blinders and thank you for it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is How the GOP Can Keep the White House, How the Democrats Can Take it Back (Middle Passage Press, August 2008).