Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Surveillance outrage

Some time tomorrow, unless some unlikely civil-liberties miracle occurs, the Senate will pass the FISA-update-surveillance bill, another victory for an administration that still believes, however many times it gets its hand slapped, the president has virtually unlimited power to do whatever he likes when it comes to surveillance, regardless of what the law might say. Passage will mean no accountability for the wholesale lawbreaking the NSA surveillance program, begun shortly after 9/11, lied about, and continued until exposed, represented. It represents a notable retreat by the Democrats, led by their nominee presumptive Barack Obama.

As I've noted previously, if you view him as an unusually ambitious and skillful politician rather than as a messiah who will change the very character of politics, of course Obama would support this bill. He intends to be president, and as president he will want to have the power to do extensive surveillance, whether he ends up using it as promiscuously as Bush has or not. That's one of the insidious aspects of accretions of power by any president; the power-grabs may inspire outrage at the time or a bit later, but the next president almost never scales back the power, instead somehow finding it is not only justified but needed. It's all explained nicely in Gene Healey's book, "The Cult of the Presidency."

I wonder whether disillusionment with Obama -- already justifiably being expressed by people who supported him early and enthusiastically, will do anything to weaken support for the cult, which most Americans believe in more strongly than whatever religion they profess (since virtually all religions warn against placing too much faith in and giving too much power to mere mortals). One would like to hope so, but the hold of the cult is strong.

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