Obama, then and now

ProPublica has published a list (with supporting sources) of all the things that Barack Obama, when he was a US senator, advocated when it came to government surveillance and for which he seems to have conveniently developed amnesia now. Here are the items:

  • Limit bulk records collection
  • Require government analysts to get court approval before accessing incidentally collected American data
  • Have the executive branch to report to Congress how many American communications had been swept up during surveillance
  • Restrict the use of gag orders related to surveillance court orders
  • Give the accused a chance to challenge government surveillance
  • Wanted the attorney general to submit a public report giving aggregate data about how many people had been targeted for searches
  • Wanted the government to declassify significant surveillance court opinions

Ah, those were the days!


  1. Félix Desrochers-Guérin says

    Change you can believe in: the kind that doesn’t happen.

    -Stephen Colbert

  2. Jeffrey Johnson says

    I don’t know what conclusions one is expected to draw from these points.

    I can imagine some:

    1. Obama was a liar as a Senator, and didn’t mean anything he said. He was always just an evil fascist angling for power, even when he pretended to care about the community as an organizer in Chicago.

    2. Obama used to be sincere and care about justice and protecting rights, but becoming President immediately and irretrievably corrupted him because, why? He’s being bribed? He’s being threatened? He’s blinded by power?Or what?

    3. As a Senator Obama had the luxury of over-simplifying reality and espousing obvious popular opinions about goodness and justice, but the practical realities, irreconcilable conflicts, and complex moral tradeoffs involved in actually running the government and weighing the advice and informed opinion of seasoned military and intelligence professionals against the ideals of popular opinion, and the pressure of knowing he was responsible for life and death decisions that could bear directly on the lives of millions of Americans, forced him to make hard choices and unpleasant compromises that Senator Obama had never been forced to consider.

    I’ll go with door number three.

    I expect we could compile a similar list of contradictions for every single President in the history of the country, and in fact for the leaders of every nation or empire in the history of the planet. Coincidence? I think not. There is something about real responsibility that changes the stakes, and something about having to weigh the consequences of every decision in greater detail, including careful rational analysis of risks, and something about the inertia of the status quo and the chaos brought on by powerful opposing forces, that means simply following the best impulses of your heart and counting on your fondest hopes for the world to be true is no longer sufficient to the job at hand.

  3. Mano Singham says

    One doesn’t have to argue that he was an evil fascist. He could be just another cynical politician without core principles who knew the audience he was targeting and what he had to say to appeal to them and get their votes and did so successfully in order to get elected. I wrote about some warning signs of this back in February 2008. He may have truly cared about the community organizing work he did in Chicago or he may have thought it would look good on his resume for a future run for public office or it may be some mix of the two motives.

    But his record indicates great cynicism and calculation on his part. Recall how he reversed himself on his promise to oppose granting retrospective immunity to the telecommunications companies for their illegal wiretapping and data gathering. He did so after he got the nomination but before he took office, so it was not the realities of office that caused him to betray that promise. He was running against Hillary Clinton as the anti-war, civil liberties advocate and ditched it as soon as she conceded the race.

    But going by your logic, are you saying that we should never hold any president to the promises they made while campaigning and they are allowed to begin office with a clean slate to do what they want?

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