FISA Vote is Obama’s ‘Sister Souljah Moment’

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.





3 responses to “FISA Vote is Obama’s ‘Sister Souljah Moment’

  1. Pingback: » FISA is Obama’s Sister Souljah Moment

  2. I agree that Obama is taking a big risk here, although any decision would have been a risk. Sure he doesn’t want to play into the “weak on terror” line of attacks, but this decision looks nakedly like the political calculation that one must assume it was. Principles that jibe with his “change” message do not explain the way he handled this issue.

    There is now widespread suspicion among progressive activists that Barack may be just another useless Democrat who thinks acting and voting like Republicans will make him more “electable”. I worry that with moves like this, he may depress his base in the same way that the long line of losing Dem candidate have. Obama will need to do something to gain their trust back before the election season starts in earnest, otherwise he risks blunting his considerable fundraising and ground game advantage.

    As for the FISA issue itself, two questions jump out in my mind in describing why it’s so abominable:

    1) Is Congress really about to endorse the notion that if the President says or does something, that inherently makes it legal???

    2) Am I being spied on? With this bill, I would never be able to find out. There’s something truly un-American about that.

  3. “national security” as Obama’s excuse — hah! his sell-out behavior has the opposite effect, it makes us less secure. I’m a conservative who was (until this) almost certainly voting for Obama precisely because I felt his approach to national security was smarter and McCain’s despite the rhetoric and war vet image, was actually weaker and less effective. But weakening our Constitutional system, exercising power not given to a particular branch of government, these things not only weaken from within, but give cause for those without to view us as hypocritics who talk up democracy while breaking the law, dishonoring separation of powers, yielding civil liberties, etc — it makes us look untrustworthy and worthy of contempt, not credibility. This does not enhance national security. No, I’ll believe Obama and the rest are succumbing to political pressure to *appear* a certain way, or I’ll believe they’ve been bought by telcoms or political deals, or other reasons, but “national security”…no, that makes no sense, they’re slashing our strength, the Constitution.

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