by Jules Witcover
The revelation that the federal government has spied on millions of supposedly private phone and Internet communications makes President Obama's headache over the
The leaks about the policy to the British newspaper the Guardian and to the
Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer has suggested, according to Politico, that Obama "is carrying out Bush's fourth term" by continuing into his fifth year in the Oval Office the private communications dragnet first authorized by Bush seven years ago.
Obama's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has justified the sweeping federal quest into the digital records of
Clapper is supported on his claim of legality by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the
The New York Times in an uncommonly long and blistering editorial called Feinstein's defense "absurd," and argued that Chambliss' comment raised the obvious question of how such a citizen would know about the massive federal scrutiny. The original sponsor of the Patriot Act, Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, said "seizing the phone records of innocent people is excessive and un-American."
Prior to this latest political bombshell, President Obama had his hands full with what has been called a trifecta of scandals in his administration's handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and the
Now there no doubt will be a hue and cry over who leaked this latest revelation of governmental snooping, originally reported in the Guardian by Glenn Greenwald, a prominent liberal commentator on civil rights and other officialdom abuses. The last thing Obama needs right now is to be described as an enabler of a continued policy of the junior George Bush, who has been his favorite whipping boy for leaving him with two wars and a crippled economy.
The issue that Obama must deal with now is not so much defending the proffered purpose of the broad communications dragnet as answering why it was held in such secrecy for so long if it was both legal and justifiable, and not shared with the American public on those grounds.
As the Times editorial noted, Obama as a senator from Illinois observed in 2007 that Bush's terrorist surveillance was one that "puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide." The very same contradiction has been raised in Obama's continued use and extension of armed drone aircraft against targets in the Middle East, heightening the vexing issue of collateral damage.
Once more, Obama's hopes of pivoting in his second term from issues inherited from the previous administration to a domestic agenda of his own in keeping with his generally liberal philosophy are being thwarted, this time in part by his own hand.
An old axiom in politics still applies, that swift disclosure of problematic policies is the best antidote to public outrage against an unpopular or damaging revelation. The president needs, openly and effectively, to defend keeping the Bush surveillance in place, or if possible revise it in a way to make it more compatible with, as he once said, the liberties we cherish.
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"More Big Brother Snooping"