Photo Credit: Obama Campaign
He responded. While most Americans settled into a relaxed Independence Day weekend, Barack Obama tried to quiet mounting criticism from supporters over his decision to back a new White House spying bill. In an unprecedented letter released on the afternoon of July 3, Obama addressed the thousands of supporters who organized a large protest on his social networking portal.
Noting that he expected to take his “lumps” and “be held accountable,” Obama respectfully defended his surveillance reversal. While maintaining that immunizing companies accused of illegal spying undermines deterrence and “accountability for past abuses,” Obama said he now backs legislation granting the right to give immunity (and other executive powers) because it provides a “real mechanism for accountability” via future investigations. The explanation ran 852 words–more than double the length of his original statement announcing support for the spying bill on June 20–and then campaign policy aides continued the discussion for over an hour with visitors on Obama’s site (pictured at right). The unusual exchange sparked an intense debate over the weekend, as activists and bloggers questioned whether it heralded a more interactive political era, or a reminder that double talk can spread on any medium.
On Sunday night, the protest group released its official reply, collaboratively edited through a wiki and representing some of the 19,000 members. It pressed Obama to take his fight against immunity to the Senate floor this week. Since Obama’s letter said he still wanted to “strike” immunity from the bill, the group urged him to take charge:
We ask that you back up your words with action by addressing your constituents on the floor of the Senate with the same oratorical power you used in Philadelphia to lay out your vision of a ‘More Perfect Union.’ The American people have just as much right to know of the dangerous precedent this Congress would be setting by granting retroactive immunity to [companies that spied] on law-abiding citizens as we did to relearn of segregation and Jim Crow. The arm of government oppression reaches far and wide, Senator, and we must beat it back on whatever front we find it.