President Obama's insistence that combating terrorism requires the federal government's widespread gathering of Americans' phone and email records completed his turnaround from the days as a candidate when he railed against the very same domestic surveillance programs.
Days after the president's emphatic defense of the domestic spying programs, some of his staunchest supporters were flummoxed by the evolution of a president who entered office vowing that his administration would not sacrifice American ideals and freedoms in the name of national security.
"It's getting harder and harder to square Senator Obama with President Obama -- and it's totally deflating," a former Obama counterterrorism policy adviser confessed. "I'm having Bush flashbacks all over again. And liberals who say otherwise aren't being honest with themselves."
|Obama versus Obama|
|» "If someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document -- through library books they've read and phone calls they've made -- this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear their plea, no jury will hear their case. This is just plain wrong."|
|- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., discussing the Patriot Act, December 2005|
|» "This [Bush] administration acts like violating civil liberties is the way to enhance our security. It is not. There are no short-cuts to protecting America."|
|- Sen. Obama, August 2007|
|» "As president, I will follow existing law, and when it comes to U.S. citizens and residents, I will only authorize surveillance for national security purposes consistent with FISA and other federal statutes."|
|- Sen. Obama, Boston Globe, December 2007|
|» "As president, Barack Obama would revisit the Patriot Act to ensure that there is real and robust oversight of National Security Letters, sneak-and-peek searches and the use of the material witness provision."|
|- 2008 Obama campaign materials|
Some of the president's liberal supporters dubbed the president "George W. Obama," a mocking comparison to the predecessor he derided, saying that he not only has relied upon controversial powers outlined in the Patriot Act but has pushed beyond the act's limits.
As a senator, Obama warned about U.S. intelligence agencies going on "fishing expeditions," lamenting the monitoring of innocent Americans' library books and phone records. Now he calls the collection of millions of phone records -- even for those with no connection to government investigations -- a "critical tool" in protecting the homeland.
Obama has found defenders among hawkish Republicans, but many conservatives, including Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., author of the Patriot Act, echo the same complaints as left-leaning groups and civil libertarians.
"His legacy is obviously that he completely broke all the promises he made in the campaign and took a completely opposite position as he did when a senator from Illinois," Sensenbrenner told The Washington Examiner. "This is a big flip-flop on an issue that deals with the Constitution."
Sensenbrenner also accused Obama of distorting the truth about oversight of his National Security Agency's snooping.
"I was not briefed on the program," he said. "I certainly was not apprised. They aren't pushing beyond the edge of the envelope -- they're going way beyond it."
The White House shrugs off any comparisons between Bush and Obama, noting that he's ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, working to close the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and establishing new rules for the use of drone strikes. Obama insists that his surveillance techniques are subject to both legislative and judicial oversight and in no way infringe on Americans' privacy.
"I don't think the public really likes the government to know about every phone call they've made and received," countered Sensenbrenner.
The president says he welcomes a debate on the tradeoffs between personal freedoms and national security, even though he kept such practices secret and his administration vowed to prosecute the man who revealed the program to the public. Obama's critics say the policies he once denounced are now certain to live on beyond his time in office.
"The common thread underlying all of these deviations from political integrity and public consensus is unchecked official secrecy," said Steven Aftergood, a government watchdog at the Federation of American Scientists. "Too much essential information on intelligence surveillance policy has been withheld from public access, thereby inhibiting public debate, precluding informed consent and inspiring growing cynicism."