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Obama Responds to Online FISA Critics

By Jose Antonio Vargas
In recent days, Sen. Barack Obama has been targeted by supporters on his own social networking site,, because of his stance on the FISA compromise. One backer formed a group on MyBO, as users call Obama's site, named "Senator Obama­ Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity -­ Get FISA Right."

Today, that group has grown to more than 16,000 members, making it the single largest group on Obama's site.

In response to the group and a growing online controversy over his FISA stance, Obama took to his blog this afternoon to address concerns about his support for the intelligence surveillance bill.

"This was not an easy call for me," he wrote. "I know that the FISA bill that passed the House is far from perfect. I wouldn't have drafted the legislation like this, and it does not resolve all of the concerns that we have about President Bush's abuse of executive power... But I also believe that the compromise bill is far better than the Protect America Act that I voted against last year. The exclusivity provision makes it clear to any President or telecommunications company that no law supersedes the authority of the FISA court."

In addition to elaborating on his reasons for supporting the bill, Obama sought to reassure his online activists that he heard them.

"Now, I understand why some of you feel differently about the current bill, and I'm happy to take my lumps on this site and elsewhere. For the truth is that your organizing, your activism and your passion is an important reason why this bill is better than previous versions," he wrote."...I cannot promise to agree with you on every issue. But I do promise to listen to your concerns, take them seriously, and seek to earn your ongoing support to change the country....

"Democracy cannot exist without strong differences. And going forward, some of you may decide that my FISA position is a deal breaker. That's OK. But I think it is worth pointing out that our agreement on the vast majority of issues that matter outweighs the differences we may have."

Since announcing his presidential candidacy nearly a year and a half ago, Obama has been, by and large, the most popular Democrat online, judging by enthusiasm on social networking sites and the overall buzz in the blogosphere. After some initial suspicion, the online political class -- if not all of the most prominent liberal bloggers -- embraced him.

But since capturing the nomination a few weeks ago, Obama has repeatedly draw criticism from such supporters. Some have decried his stance on the recent Supreme Court ruling on gun laws, others his decision to expand President Bush's faith based programs and yet others his support for a FISA compromise. Warned Matt Stoller of, "If he keeps attacking the core values of some of his most ardent supporters, that energy won't go to McCain, but it may go down ticket or de-active some activists into mere voters."

Following on the heels of the "Vote NO" MyBO group, another supporter created the wiki "Senator, please get FISA right," which includes an open letter to Obama.

"I'm very disappointed about the FISA situation," Jon Pincus, the wiki's creator, told The Trail. Pincus, 46, says he's "repeatedly" given money to Obama online. "What Obama's supporters like me are looking for is to be a part of the conversation about FISA."

It's conversation, it seems, that has just began.

This is one in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to vargasj-at-washpost-dot-com.

By Web Politics Editor  |  July 3, 2008; 6:03 PM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama , The Clickocracy  
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