Markos and Obama

Kos isn’t happy with Obama.

First, he reversed course and capitulated on FISA, not just turning back on the Constitution, but on the whole concept of “leadership”. Personally, I like to see presidents who 1) lead, and 2) uphold their promises to protect the Constitution.

Then, he took his not-so-veiled swipe at MoveOn in his “patriotism” speech.

Finally, he reinforced right-wing and media talking points that Wes Clark had somehow impugned McCain’s military service when, in reality, Clark had done no such thing.

All of a sudden, there was a lot of cowering…

I’m not really a netroots person, so the coming critique comes from a sympathetic, but outside, perspective (I’d really like for Erik, the resident net rooter, the chime in) but ultimately this is why I think the netroots is basically just the new, technologically different, right of the 1990’s. They’ve got leverage at the moment in fundraising and organizing, much like the talk radio crowd had in the mid 90’s. The question now is whether or not they avoid the prat fall of the ideological right-wing, namely falling into their own echo chamber that magnifies their narrow set of opinions such that they instinctively view themselves as being a larger group than they really are. That’s exactly what the right-wing did at some point after 9/11, and the ideological collalescing marginalized the group such that they could barely even make a dent in the Republican Party’s primary. The 2 biggest enemies of Rush Limbaugh finished 1st and 2nd in South Carolina, of all places.

And as much as I admire him, Markos is not the median American. He is on the left. The pendulum may have swung back to the left such that Kos is closer to the current median than Limaugh at the moment, but that’s not really good enough for a candidate who needs to stay palatable to the median. What makes even less sense to me is that Markos knows this, in some sense, and he’s making a somewhat important fuss over relatively minor matters.

Take FISA. In the abstract, yes, it’s a major issue. The question of warrantless wiretappings should be huge on everyone’s mind, but that’s not really the particular of the matter. Immunity from civil lawsuits for telecom companies isn’t quite so sexy an issue, and it’s not something the median voter is going to devote a lot of time to digesting a bulk of information about. And on the crux of the matter, reauthorizing a program that most everyone agrees is necessary to American security, Barack Obama simply can’t oppose it, lest he give McCain ground on a major issue. It may seem insignificant now when, let’s face it, none of us would evne consider betting a cent that John McCain can win the White House, but a lot can happen before November to change the circumstances of the race, and if Obama cedes that ground to McCain and gives the opening to be painted as “another soft-on-terror” Democrat, it could be toxic with swing voters in Western and Midwestern states.

But let’s cut to the chase, Markos (and the left at large) doesn’t really care if people can file civil suits against telecom companies or not. The only reason it really matters, as Publius has plainly stated, is that with trials comes discovery, and discovery could turn up a whole lot of dirt on the Bush administration as the firms being sued try to pass the buck. And this is what I really don’t understand. Instead of trying to push Obama into an action that pigeon-holes him rhetorically and opens up a window for Republicans that Democrats need not go for, why doesn’t Markos, and the rest of the netroots, simply push him to make a pledge to vigorously investigate the actions of the Bush administration and prosecute offenses where appropriate? It gets them what they ultimately want, the specter of putting Bush administration officials in jail (and it even does it quicker, cutting out the transitional step of suing telecom companies) and it doesn’t push Obama into a politically unsteady footing heading into the fall. McCain could make a semi-convincing argument that Obama is weak on terror and/or doesn’t take the threat seriously if Obama cuts against Democratic leadership and prevailing defense industry wisdom and opposes reauthorizing the FISA package. But I have a feeling that he’s going to have a lot tougher sell making hay out an Obama promise to investigate illegality. The American people generally like laws and dislike outright lawlessness and corruption, especially amongst politicians. Who’s going to digest the idea that potential lawbreaking, civil liberties violations, and on down the list by the government shouldn’t be investigated seriously? This strikes me as a win-win for Obama and the netroots.

I do agree with him about the cowering bit. Maybe it’s the predictable media framing of the race, but Obama has started to sound unsure of himself in areas of foreign policy, where one of his biggest strengths has been his confidence handling the matter on his terms. In this regard I’m strating to think he really might need to take some along the lines of Jim Webb or Joe Biden, who are just naturally comfortable rguing with Republicans on foreign policy, as his running mate.