Currently, there is a blog war raging between two liberal darlings, Glenn Greenwald and Keith Olbermann, concerning who has the right attitude about Obama's cave-in on the FISA bill. Let us stipulate, at the outset, that Barack has caved in. He is not going to take the kind of heroic stand one associates with Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin or Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. Note, however, that these front-line champions of civil liberties are not similarly slinging mud in Barack's direction. This is because, unlike Glenn Greenwald on this issue, they are maintaining perspective. Greenwald has gone so far as to start a fund to defeat the reelection of the Democratic Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Once you become that emotionally and intellectually invested in one issue, of course, there is a tendency to imagine that unless you win, that absolutely nothing else matters, and even the election of John McCain would be acceptable just to prove this passing point.
Personally, when it comes to national politics I believe in game theory, practicality, choosing the lesser of two evils, compromise, tactical selling out, and incremental change. That is because I recognize better than Glenn Greenwald the kind of country I actually live in. I understand that Barack Obama not only has to convince Ivy League lawyers with 140 IQs to vote for him, but also people living in trailers in rural eastern Kentucky with sixth grade educations whose main issue is safety from alien abduction. Demographically speaking, this country has become a complete mess. In a lot of the ways in which we determine what a country even is, the United States does not measure up. Politicians invoke the word "American" and "my fellow Americans" and it seems to work every four years or so, maybe during the final lap of the medley relay at the Olympics, and our hearts then swell with national pride, but that's only because we each carry around some idiosyncratic concept of what the country is to us, and in many cases that idea is based on long out-of-date memories formed about 40 or 50 years ago, if you're old enough (as I am) for that to have happened.
The country is divided along a huge number of fault lines. There is, in the first instance, the gigantic disparity in income and wealth between a tiny super-rich class and everyone else. Politics are driven by Big Money; everyone recognizes that without necessarily thinking through the consequences. The "telecoms" belong to this group; large, extremely powerful corporations who control the flow of information in this country. Big Oil dictates much of the foreign and energy policies of the United States; again, a profoundly anti-democratic influence.
Then we have the religious/secular divide. The conservatives play to their religious base by designing an agenda catering to a vast array of niggling hang-ups. Abortion; school instruction in premarital sex; birth control; stem cell research; gay marriage; gays, for that matter. The "progressives" (as they must call themselves now because "liberal" was taken away from them by the conservatives) try not to offend the religious right while steering a course right-of-center in appealing to their perceived base, the secularist well-educated. They can only go so far. Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, with his electoral base, can approve of gay marriage. Barack Obama can go as far as "civil unions" before calling it a day. Let's not get hysterical here.
Overlapping with this schism to a certain extent is the huge nativist/immigrant divide. The United States has never been more a "nation of immigrants" than it is right now, and border states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas have huge Latino populations which are unassimilated to one extent or another in terms of language, culture and political agendas.
A politician in America running for our one national office has to navigate among this bewildering array of power centers, special interests, subgroups, cultures, educational levels, regional concerns and religions and yet emerge as a "consensus" candidate with enough pull to get a majority of votes in enough states to get 270 electoral votes. Such a process obviously requires him to check his "purity of conscience" at the door. The more cynical you are about manipulation and artifice, the more successful you can be. This and only this explains the successes of Karl Rove. One can feign purity of conscience; indeed, this is considered appealing, and the candidate who is better at simulating sincerity often wins the election, as George W. Bush once did (in 2004). The process, however, is about mounting a general campaign, not soliciting the votes of tiny constituencies with axes to grind, like Glenn Greenwald.
So, just to go on a bit longer, and to explain the reason for the title of the post: I agree with Glenn Greenwald's position on FISA. He's right, in my opinion. I wish I lived in a country where my preferred presidential candidate could simply agree with us and vote accordingly. But I don't. However, I do live in a world where James Hansen, testifying before Congress, said this just last week:
"The difference is that now [as opposed to 20 years ago when he first testified] we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb. The next president and Congress must define a course next year in which the United States exerts leadership commensurate with our responsibility for the present dangerous situation.
"Otherwise it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas produced in burning fossil fuels, to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity's control."