I'M NOT DEFENDING OBAMA ON THIS. I'M JUST SAYING THAT ...
... I understand why he's caving on FISA, which is that he doesn't see it the way Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo sees it:
... he's seemed absolutely dead serious about changing the way foreign policy is discussed and argued about in this country.
Time and again, in his debates with Hillary, and now with John McCain, his whole debate posture on national security issues was centered on the idea that he could challenge and change what it means to talk "tough."
...if there were ever anything that would have tested his operating premise throughout this campaign -- that you can win arguments with Republicans about national security -- it was this legislation....
Well, he's picking his battles, and he clearly thinks this wasn't one on which he wanted to test this operating premise. I don't know if this mean he'll cave every time the rubber meets the road or if it just means that he'll be infuriatingly timid 20% of the time or 50% of the time when we want him to stick his neck or whatever -- but he thinks this is not a hill to die on, and that's bad news, but there it is.
Greg says this:
...His candidacy has long seemed to embody a conviction that Democrats can win arguments with Republicans about national security -- that if Dems stick to a set of core principles, and forcefully argue for them without blinking, they can and will persuade people that, simply put, they are right and Republicans are wrong....
Well, yes and no. As I see it, the conviction his candidacy embodies is that he can make a certain number of arguments that conventional wisdom tells us are deemed "soft" and, defying the CW, defend those assertions forcefully and defiantly. But he clearly thinks there's a limit to what you can defend all at once in bucking the CW. Give him credit for having stuck his neck out quite a bit -- on talking to demonized world leaders, on habeas for detainees, and, hell, even on withdrawing from Iraq, which right-wing concern trolls have recently been telling us is a position he's going to have to walk back from after he visits Iraq and sees the awesome success of our awesome surge.
He's taking risks. He thinks he can't afford to take this one. It's maddening, but I can't tell you that, politically, he's wrong. And still, on balance, he's working hard to change "acceptable" opinion on foreign policy, even if this is a profound letdown.