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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

From Political Opportunism to Sister Soulijah

Lanny Davis just penned a piece that is either the most politically tone deaf analysis I have ever read or sinister machievallian political spin. Davis claims that on the issue of warrantless wiretaps Obama has an opportunity to create his own Sister Soulijah moment. First he espouses the positives of warrantless wiretapping.

But the senator's position is not only correct on the merits from a pro-civil liberties and pro-privacy rights perspective. It also provided the senator an important chance to demonstrate his "Sister Souljah moment."


The compromise bill was essentially crafted by leading liberals in the House who see no inconsistency between civil liberties and privacy rights and protecting America from another 9/11 attack.

The compromise bill would provide strict supervision by the special FISA Court of all intelligence agency anti-terrorist surveillance activities, with strict time limits on renewal of court orders. It would require written findings and accountability by the Justice Department and individual warrants and court orders if any U.S. citizen is involved, directly or indirectly, in the surveillance. And importantly, it expands congressional oversight of the program, including the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, as well as the Intelligence Committees in both chambers.

Now, if Lanny Davis was a supporter of warrantless wiretapping I must have missed it in the primaries. While I agree with Davis' assessment of the policy, I don't for one minute think that Obama has arrived at this position as a matter of policy. Barack Obama was fervently against warrantless wiretapping and so much so that he even threatened to lead a filibuster if it was passed essentially as it is about to be passed now.

Now, just as the general election is starting, Barack Obama has found his newfound moderate position on this issue. Furthermore, if Obama were to take on on this issue, it would help him during the general election.

Here, Davis either simply misunderstands the real Sister Soulijah moment or he misrepresents it for nefarious reasons. When Bill Clinton took on the rap industry it was in the middle of the primary campaign. It is one thing to take on your base when only your base is voting. It is quite another to challenge your base after you have been chosen and use that challenge in the general election.

Had Obama challenged during the primaries on FISA that would have been a Sister Soulijah moment, and that would have been real political courage. Of course, had he done that he also wouldn't have been the nominee. Taking on now is about as politically courageous taking on CEO's, banks, insurance companies, and George Bush during the primaries.

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