Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama vote gives rise to Strangebedfellows

I took this photo of Obama on Wednesday afternoon as his motorcade departed the parking lot of the US Congress. He had just betrayed a promise to his early supporters.

Because on Wednesday, the United States moved a step closer to being a country ruled not by law, but by an imperial presidency that stands above the law; it moved nearer to abandoning the "separation of powers" between the legislative and judicial branches -- a fundamental tenant of democracy; its senators cast a vote that confirms suspicions that the US government is controlled by a corporate oligarchy -- one that rules by fear.

Senator Obama went back on his word that he would never let this happen.

The NY Times reports: "More than two and a half years after the disclosure of President’s Bush’s domestic eavesdropping program set off a furious national debate, the Senate gave final approval on Wednesday afternoon to broadening the government’s spy powers and providing legal immunity for the phone companies that took part in the wiretapping program."

Glenn Greenwald - an expert on the US Constitution -- blogs what Obama's controversial vote on the floor of the US Senate means for the rule of law. His recent posts on the new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) are well worth reading. In a post Wednesday, Greenwald reviews the FISA vote count. Obama voted yes -- as would McCain had he bothered to show up to vote. Obama then voted for closure -- to cut off further Senate debate on the bill he once vehemently opposed. (On the other hand, Hillary Clinton voted against the bill). Greenwald concludes: "Obama's vote in favor of cloture, in particular, cemented the complete betrayal of the commitment he made back in October when seeking the Democratic nomination." In October 2007, an Obama spokesman had assured the public:
"To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies."
One Republican senator, Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania) had proposed a weak amendment to FISA. Specter believed that too few senators had actually been briefed on the controversial legislation. During the debate on his amendment, from the gallery of the Senate I watched something transpire that I would have thought -- assumed -- unthinkable. I witnessed Democratic Party Senator John D. Rockefeller (West Virginia) tell the Republican Senator for Pennsylvania that not pass the legislation in its current form would put "US national security at risk." (The threat the Bush Administration keeps using against Democrats). Specter retorted that for years he had served as chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Specter was right to be outraged. The debate was surreal. I think it is indicative of a problem that go well beyond any questions we have about President Bush.

Accordingly, the vote on the spy bill has united a diverse array of libertarian Republicans and left-wing Democrats. They have formed a new group called Strangebedfellows. According to their new website, "Strangebedfellows is a unique and diverse left--right coalition which has come together to put a stop to the eradication of civil liberties in America."

This new left-right coalition is worth supporting. It will be interesting to watch how this movement develops. As for the immediate impact of today's vote? I suspect George W. Bush should sleep well for many more months to come. He will have Senator Obama and a largely Democratic US Congress to thank for it.

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