Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

FISA Crisis 2008

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The New York Times has dueling op-eds on the FISA issue: the editorial board is unhappy with Obama, while Morton Halprin (who was spied on by Nixon) believes the FISA compromise is the best legislation we can hope for at this time.

I’ve already written about this (in both blogspot and Daily Kos flavors), but I have one or two things to add. First, on the merits of the FISA compromise, I think the bill itself is pretty awful, but telecom immunity isn’t the awful part. I can’t imagine the government making any other policy choice if it ever wants a private company to comply with its requests ever again. The problem here was and always has been Bush administration illegality, not telecom compliance—so the netroots are directing their fire in entirely the wrong direction. This TPM reader gets it right:

Before we all torpedo the best candidate we have had in 30+ years over this FISA thing, be aware of the two facts: (1) there is a long-established government contractor immunity doctrine in American law & what the telecoms did after 9-11 in obeying government demands for compliance is right in stride with that doctrine, and (2) in any event, the federal government is likely required to indemnify the telcos for any judgment or settlement they’d have to pay. Is this really the make-or-break litmus-test the netroots is clamoring for? No way. Is this just another example of liberals eating their own? You betcha.

As I was writing at the tail end of an Yglesias comment thread last night, the grandstanding you’re seeing on the lefty blogs over telecom immunity seems to me to be misdirected anger over the dawning recognition that Bush and his cronies really are going to get away with everything scot free. Well, they are. Pelosi took impeachment off the table—wrongly, I think, though I understand the political calculus involved—and it’s extremely unlikely there will be any substantive investigation of Bush following Obama’s election. There never has been. We’ll “turn the page.” “For the good of the country,” a criminal Republican administration will once again walk, and the really sad fact is the exact same bunch of thugs will probably pop back up yet another decade down the line to do it all again.

We lost the fight to hold Bush accountable when Pelosi took impeachment off the table. I’m sorry that’s true, but that’s reality, no matter what happens with FISA and telecom immunity or what anybody says on the Internet.

What’s actually at stake now is the character of the *next* eight years, eight absolutely crucial years in a very precarious moment not only for this nation but for the entire world—and with regard to that struggle Obama is doing the right thing by taking the FISA issue off the table. He’s being pragmatic. We need to be pragmatic too.

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