What will be Obama’s surveillance legacy look like?

For months, both democrat and republican neo-cons have been going around the country claiming that the NSA’s search and seizure habits and practices are kosher.  People spout dangerous rhetoric (like Representative Peter King (R-NY)) that we should be willing to trade liberty for safety.  Others argue that warrantless searches and overbroad warrants are at least legal, under FISA and the Patriot Act, if nothing else.   Yet it turns out that even this is incorrect.  The Obama NSA has spent years inadvertently but purposely spying on the e-mails of Americans to and from other Americans.  Neither American has to be suspected of terrorist activity.

Should an American be in contact with someone who has two to three degrees of separation from someone suspected of terrorist communications, they also come under the NSA’s watchful eye.

The argument up until this point is that while the NSA searches may be vast, they are authorized by Congress and are legal.   Not only is that not true, but we have also confirmed that NSA cannot be trusted.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal broke the story that in fact, the NSA has been illegally collecting thousands of emails.   Long after it discovered the “error”, NSA brought it to the attention of the FISA court which put an immediate end to the program.  The White House was not forthcoming with this information, nor was the Director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

Tens of thousands of innocent emails were searched and seized without a warrant.

What will the President do about this?

Obama’s second term, like most second terms, is shot to hell.  He will have trouble accomplishing anything.  Even his tax increase on working Americans was technically part of his First term.  He won’t get gun control and his immigration prospects look small and bleak.

Obama initially believed that the Stimulus, bailouts, Obamacare and Dodd-Frank would stand at his legacy.  These will be the displays his supporters will mount in his library.  But the Stimulus failed (even by Paul Krugman standards), and Obama has failed to push through any meaningful banking reform.  The next time a bank shows that it is too big to fail, Obama’s legacy will be little more than his Affordable Care Act.

But Republicans have shown a resiliency on this issue as well.  Either now or later, Republicans will repeal this bill, either in part or in whole, either in effect or principal, this tax will one day fall.  Republicans could wait ten or twenty years to repeal the individual mandate and then stand back and smile as the entire monstrosity comes crashing down.

But Obama has the opportunity to carve out a second term legacy that is greater than Rs or Ds and will stand the test of time.

The strength and weaknesses of progressive presidents has always been there ability to change course.  FDR was always open to the will of his voters, constantly experimenting with new spending programs — this was both his success and his failure.  LBJ’s Administration collapsed under his inability to adequately confront the Vietnam War.  Bill Clinton’s success and popularity to this day was thanks to his “triangulation” strategy, his willingness to change course.

What started as whistleblower leaks of NSA policy has become the issue of Obama’s first year of his second term.  What will Obama do to protect civil liberties?  Does he even care about Constitutional freedoms?  These are the questions Obama has failed to address so far and his legacy is becoming tarred by the fact that his Administration is at the very least as bad as the Bush/Cheney Administration on civil liberties and at worst has allowed the completion of a military-intelligence-industrial complex that can never be dislodged from every American communication.

Most presidents come into office with an agenda and a set of promises that act as goals.  Others, like Theodore Roosevelt, the first Progressive President, listen to the will of the people to guide them.  Obama should look to Teddy.

America needs leadership on the surveillance issue and only the President can provide it.  Democrats are increasingly coming out against Obama Surveillance programs.  Obama finds himself increasingly being defended by his arch nemesis including Dick Cheney, James Inhofe and Peter King.  Obama should ask himself why he is at odds with the Press, Tea Party and his own Democrat Party.  The latitude that he gives to agencies now will have a more far reaching impact into the future than things like SCOTUS nominees ever could.

Obama should hear the American people.  These programs are overbroad.  FISA can work without spying on internet traffic at home.  Tighten immigration standards for non-citizens rather than allowing them in and spying on all of us.  Allow FISA warrants to be made public within a reasonable amount of time.  Repeal the “libraries” provision of the Patriot Act which hinders free speech.  The “hope” theme is gone for Obama and will never return.  But the “freedom” theme is waiting to be picked up, if only this President had the guts to take on the powerful intelligence community.