Olbermann gets more critical of Obama's FISA stance
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Tuesday July 1, 2008

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Senator Barack Obama's announcement that he would be supporting the Congressional "compromise" on expanding wireless wiretapping and giving the telecom companies retroactive immunity has created fierce arguments in the liberal wing of the Democratic party over whether Obama's "move to the center" is a necessary strategy for the general election or a pointless sellout on a core issue.

Last week, blogger Glenn Greenwald fiercely attacked MSNBC's Keith Olbermann over his praise of Obama for "refusing to cower even to the left," setting off an online argunment that raged between them for several days, drawing in other bloggers and even former Watergate figure John Dean.

In a Special Comment delivered on Monday's Countdown, Olbermann attempted to find a middle ground in the dispute, suggesting that "the Democratic leadership in the Senate, Republican knuckle-dragging in the same chamber, and the mediocre skills of whoever wrote the final version of the FISA bill have combined to give Sen. Barack Obama a second chance to make a first impression. And he damned well better take it."

"It would be sweet to have a pure, politics-free president, but the last of those retired from office in 1797," Olbermann noted sourly. "Inside that obscenity that was Charlie Black's comment about how a terrorist attack in this country would be 'good' -- good for his boy McCain's chances for election ... there is a sad and cynical reality. The Republicans can scare some of the people all of the time and they can scare all the people some of the time. This is all they are right now."

"Senator, the Republicans are going to paint you as soft on terror no matter how you vote on FISA," Olbermann continued, addressing Obama directly. "This political tight-rope act that you've tried on FISA the last two weeks, which from the outside seems to have been intended to increase the chances of your election, probably hasn't helped that chance in the slightest."

Olbermann then pointed out that there is a loophole in the FISA legislation, since it immunizes the telecoms only from civil liability, leaving them and administration officials subject to criminal prosecution. He advised that Obama should vote for the FISA bill, but after its passage he should "say, loudly, that your understanding of this bill is such, that if you are elected, your Attorney General will begin a full-scale criminal investigation of the telecom companies."

"Explain that you are standing aside on civil immunity," concluded Olbermann, "not just for political expediency, but for a greater and more tangible good: the holding to account of the most corrupt, the most dangerous, and the most anti-democracy presidential administration in our long history. ... The Republicans are going to call you the names any which way, Senator. They're going to cry regardless, Senator. And as the old line goes: Give them something to cry about."

In a post on Tuesday morning, Glenn Greenwald saw much to approve of in Olbermann's Special Comment, noting that "in general, Olbermann's commentary about Obama's FISA position was much more critical, in both senses of the word. Still, there are numerous, glaring flaws with the fantasy that Obama will criminally prosecute telecoms."

Greenwald also emphasized that "the FISA bill is dangerous and destructive for reasons having nothing to do with the telecom immunity provisions (i.e., the warrantless eavesdropping powers it vests in the president)." He then went on to list half a dozen different ways in which Obama has repudiated his base since securing the Democratic nomination in early June.

"There is no question, at least to me, that having Obama beat McCain is vitally important," Greenwald concluded. "But so, too, is the way that victory is achieved and what Obama advocates and espouses along the way. ... Electing Barack Obama is a very important political priority but it isn't the only one there is, and his election is less likely, not more likely, the more homage he pays to these these tired, status-quo-perpetuating Beltway pieties."

A full transcript of Olbermann's remarks is available here.

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast June 30, 2008.

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