Obama's recent rightward moves—concerning BushCo's faith-based programs, and the FISA bill—have both been loudly justified by commentators who would certainly deplore them if it weren't Obama who had made them.
The thinking goes like this: "Obama's our guy, and he's really cool, the candidate of 'change,' so we should cut him all the slack he needs, so he can get elected president. In any case, this recent stuff is not so bad. So let's all lighten up—or else. Because he has to make such moves, or he will lose; and those who criticize him now are only helping the Republicans."
That view is wrong on every count. Obama's moves are not merely pragmatic gestures, like Bill Clinton's "Sister Souljah moment" (to which they've been compared). While "standing up to Sister Souljah" (!) was purely a theatrical display, meant to "send a message" to particular voters, these shifts by Obama have serious consitutional implications, regardless of his good intentions or hisrare skill at finessing what he's done.
For example, his decision to expand BushCo's faith-based programs is a bad one, even if such good souls as Jim Wallis (a righteous evangelical) and Steve Benen (a righteous secularist) have hailed him for it. The fact that David Kuo has blessed Obama's move, and that the latter's campaign has consulted him about it, is ominous, to say the least. Kuo is a true believer, who understands that the idea behind those programs is to privatize the social welfare system—something that did not come up in the (brief) controversy over Obama's announcement. (For more on Kuo, read the final chapter of Jeff Sharlet's The Family, and Kuo's own memoir, Tempting Faith.) Moreover, there was no comfort in Obama's vow that no such funds will ever go to groups that proselytize, as such a rule is on the books already, and is unenforceable in any case.
It is, in short, the First Amendment that's at stake here, and its Establishment Clause, which is essential to the health of our democracy—and which Obama has just trashed, however suavely, and regardless of the fine credentials of his humanist supporters. And it's the Fourth Amendment that's at stake in the attempt to pass the FISA bill, which will give Bush & Co. even greater powers to keep us all under surveillance. As Glenn Greenwald notes, Obama's latest statement doesn't even mention that small matter (and otherwise does nothing but spread fog over the senator's capitulation).
Those who counsel silence on these matters seem to place their party, and its candidate, above the Constitution; and that posture is not just immoral, but gratuitous. All those anxious efforts to explain away Obama's cave-ins, and to halt all critical discussion of them, come from the conviction that he'll lose if there's a whisper of dissent within his camp, or if he doesn't pander to the right.
That conviction is completely groundless—based, as it is, on the persistent myth that Gore and Kerry lost to Bush & Co., because of Karl Rove's "genius" at "hardball politics" and "mobilizing Bush's base," etc. Traumatized by those "defeats" (and others, like Max Cleland's), those now shouting down Obama's (friendly) critics can't perceive that the Republicans are finished, and that John McCain cannot legitimately win. Only through election fraud and vote suppression can he possibly prevail (as it was only through such means that Bush & Co. prevailed, not once but twice).
And such a victory is in the works, unless we act against it now. (Rove is working for McCain—who, moreover, lately hired an A-Team of veteran anti-democratic operatives.)
If, therefore, they really want to see Obama win, those who keep reflexively defending him should concentrate instead on how to keep the GOP from stealing this election, too (something that Obama seems to think is quite impossible). Such activism would be more productive—and, in the noblest sense, more patriotic—than enabling his collusion in Bush/Cheney's crimes against the Constitution.
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This story was published on JuLY 7, 2008.