My take on it is: abuses happened but they should be prevented in the future. I've read nothing showing that the telecoms' breaking the law for President Bush made us safer. There are legal (and expeditious) means of gathering intelligence that do not in any way compromise its effectiveness. We don't need a police state. Frankly I don't care whether the telecoms get retroactive immunity or not--they were being coerced by the lying Bush Administration at the time. Now all the lies have been exposed. (More on Sista Soljah here.)
Sistah Soljah'd ?
There's lots of blogospheric angst today, and for good reason, around this FISA legislation. Senator Obama's commitment to support the "compromise,"(while promising to "work" to remove the offensive telcom immunity) is a big disappointment to many.
I am tempted to say this is a Sistah Soljah moment, wherein Barack makes it clear to the Villagers that he is not one of the DFH's [dirty fucking hippies], despite all their ardent support. Nothing is more associated with us than this issue. It may even make sense on some sort of abstract level. He's obviously decided that he has to run to the right pretty hard to counteract that "most liberal Senator" label.
But, I actually have no idea what his motivation is any more than the rest of the Democrats, who seem stuck in some 2004 time warp, fighting the battle of Fallujah with Don Rumsfeld. He may genuinely think the legislation is good or just be afraid that the Republicans will use it against him. (I don't think that's going to help frankly --- he voted against it last time and that's all they need for the scare ads.) He does say that if he wins, he promises not to abuse the power it gives him, so I guess we should feel good about that.
I do know this: they would not have made this "compromise" and then brought this to the floor without his ok, and probably without his direction. He is the leader of the Democratic Party now, in the middle of a hotly contested presidential campaign. If he didn't come to them and say to get this thing done before the fall, then they came to him and asked his permission. That's just a fact. They aren't going to do anything he doesn't want them to do.
So, it's not really a capitulation. It's a strategy.
Update: Jack Balkin says Obama just wants the power as president. He may be right. That would also be a good reason to keep him from having it.