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Obama Extends Patriot Act, Democrats Support, Tea Party Balks

May 31, 2011

(This article was written by Joshua Sadowski)

Congress narrowly passed the extension of the warrant-less wiring taping bill known as “The Patriot Act” on Thursday. Parts of the law were slated to expire at midnight pending an extension from congress and signature by the president. The bill was nearly blocked by Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, who filibustered for two days prior to reaching an agreement with opponents.

Paul opposed the bill on the grounds that it violated the privacy and civil rights of Americans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was a fierce advocate of the bill stating, “When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we would be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected.”

After passage of the bill, President Obama was awakened in the early hours of the morning in Paris to sign it, only minutes prior to expiration. The president used an autopen to sign the bill remotely, a technological first.

Media coverage of the bill’s passage was fleeting and unfocused. National Public Radio aired a story that focused almost exclusively on the history and constitutionality of an autopen being used by the president while in France. This type of story would only be appropriate after a thorough examination of the content of the bill itself. An article on NPR’s website chronicled the Paul-Reid debate, blow by blow, but again ignored the content of the bill and its continued implications for Americans.

The Associated Press release on the topic did mention ACLU opposition to the bill along with public opinion poll numbers, however avoided the official name of the bill altogether in the headline, referring to the Patriot Act as a “Terrorist Fighting Bill”. It is hard to know if the AP was intentionally trying to avert attention from the matter, as “Terrorist Fighting Bill” is quite euphemistic when compared to the other options such as “Wiretapping Bill”, or even “The Patriot Act”.

The New York Times used the occasion to scrutinize Rand Paul for his parliamentary procedures. The Grand Rapids Press did not carry the story.

Laura W. Murphy of the ACLU has commented that “we’d hoped for a much more progressive position out of the Obama administration (on The Patriot Act)”. Which begs the question: Why is a conservative “Tea Party” senator filibustering the extension of a law passed during the Bush administration with Obama in the White House? Are progressives left only with the Tea Party for advocacy in congress?

Locally, Michiganders have senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin, both Democrats, to rely on to protect their interests. Stabenow and Levin both voted in favor of the extension. Grand Rapids is home to Michigan’s third congressional district, represented by Justin Amash. Amash is a Republican and was voted into congress with Rand Paul and likeminded Tea Partiers in 2010. Amash voted “No” on the bill. Amash has a record of not only breaking ranks with his party to join with other outlying Tea Party members of the house, but also of opposing intrusive government measures and even expansions of military power. Levin has long been a Democratic hawk, supporting all the current military efforts. Stabenow has a mixed record in terms of national security, but has consistently supported domestic surveillance and spying.

Obama has also been a long supporter of the Patriot Act, though one would not know that by simply listening to his words and speeches, as he has consistently fed the public anti-spying and, more poignantly during the campaign, anti-Bush rhetoric. However, while Senator Obama was bashing the bill in his speeches and accusing his opponents of being too hawkish on domestic spying, he was voting in support of it. It follows that now, President Obama has signed extensions of the bill at every opportunity. Occasionally though, congress has needed a little bit of encouragement.

Historically, the Obama White House has sent letters to senators Feingold and Durbin pressuring them to support the extensions. With Feingold swept out last year during “Tea Party Fever”, Obama may not have expected even more fierce opposition on Bush era legislation that is “tough on terrorists”. This year, the administration insisted that failure to extend the bill would compromise terrorist investigations and thus, national security. When that wasn’t enough, Obama sent his director of national security, James Clapper, to inform congress that “information obtained at the Osama bin Laden compound” may be at jeopardy if party members failed to support the bill. In only a few short years we have a seen a change in power from one party to the other, however the values of those in power has changed very little. The values of Senator Obama, such as governmental checks and balances and the civil liberties of citizens, among others, seem to be only obstacles to be hurdled by our current president. One gets the sense that 2006 Senator Obama would have some harsh criticisms of 2011 President Obama.

It appears that so long as President Obama is hawkish and right-leaning, he can avoid any scrutiny (or even much notice) from the press, and he can rely on fellow democrats to follow suite. Indeed, Rand Paul has received more flak for opposing this issue than the president has for supporting it. Obama taking the path of least residence here conforms with the democrat and republican consensus reached during the Carter administration and continuing ever since, which dictates expanding the American Empire abroad and keeping social spending to a minimum at home. Ultimately, this is just the latest example of Obama betraying his vast promises to the left during his campaign, and bowing to business and military interests. We are thus assured that any real change will not come from either of the two political parties that have dominated American politics for far too long.

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