Barack Obama just had his ‘sister souljah moment.’ It is not about race or religion; It is about national security. By insisting he shall cast his vote in favor of the pending FISA legislation, and against the netroots,Chris Dodd, and Russ Feingold (who likely will lead a filibuster), Obama has signaled to independent (and blue dog dem) voters in the general electorate that he does not want to be seen as beholden to traditional, sometimes unpopular interests associated with the Democratic Party.
This, according to Wikipedia, is a “sister souljah moment,” a term that originates with the Bill Clinton primary campaign of 1992 when he denounced comments made by Sister Souljah (that he took out of context) in a rap video saying, “if there are any good whte people, I haven’t met them yet.” wiki
Back in ’92, Clinton was seeking an opportunity to distance himself from Jesse Jackson, still unpopular with certain groups of white voters for comments he had made back in 1984. Clinton wanted to appeal to white working class and jewish voters, and used the Sister Souljah moment to distance himself from Jackson, a moment, quite frankly that he replayed to less success this spring.
As for Obama, the FISA vote provides an opportunity to appease centrist and independent voters who might not trust the netroots tide that helped push him to the nomination. In addition, by standing up for constitutional rights here (by reinvigorating FISA courts), he appeals to the indo national security minded voter who might vote for McCain unless Obama assertively showed some muscle on national security. Once again this is the white, working class voter in Pa, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio.
It is no coincidence that Obama also appears in the current Rolling Stone saying he “does not do cowering well.” The key here is that Obama is apparently now playing a “strength card.” Only time will tell if this political tactic works.
In the meantime, I believe Obama isn’t fully appreciating the amount of control that voters believe the telecoms have over their lives. The problem for Obama here is that the same voters who do not want a “jimmy carter” for a president, also do not want to see the telecom industry getting a pass of violating their 4th amendment privacy rights.
Obama may be taking a principled position in terms of bringing FISA courts back into relevance. During the last several years, they have been all but ignored and the Bush Administrations practice of ordering spying on domestic phone conversations without a warrant is unconstitutional. Obama’s position rectifies this abuse of justice.
But by giving the telecoms a pass, Obama also helps cover up years of government/corporate spying. Without holding the telecoms accountable for their role here, and given a White House that has “disappeared” an untold amount of email correspondences, it is likely the american people will never be made aware of the the full extent of this grotesque abuse of power.
Regrettably, Obama’s sister souljah moment–his play for national security moms– may win him some votes (or not), but potentially at a high cost.