Eugene Robinson is about as reflexive a liberal and as defensive a defender of Mr. Obama as one can imagine. Yet he even he has come to understand how little the President's words mean.
President Obama's message about the government's massive electronic surveillance programs came through loud and clear: Get over it.
The president used more soothing words in his pre-vacation news conference Friday, but that was the gist. With perhaps the application of a fig leaf here and a sheen of legalistic mumbo jumbo there, the snooping will continue.
Unless, of course, we demand that it end.
The modest reforms Obama proposed do not begin to address the fundamental question of whether we want the National Security Agency to log all of our phone calls and read at least some of our emails, relying on secret judicial orders from a secret court for permission. The president indicated he is willing to discuss how all this is done -- but not whether…
As part of its public relations campaign, the administration released a 22-page white paper outlining its legal rationale for collecting and keeping a detailed log of all our domestic phone calls. The document depends on novel definitions of words whose meaning, I always thought, was fairly clear.
Somewhat less kind was Jeffrey Rosen at the New Republic:
President Obama's repeated comments that "there is no spying on Americans" and that "we don't have a domestic spying program," as he told Jay Leno, were contradicted by two revelations at the end of last week. On Thursday, the New York Times reported that the NSA is "searching the contents of vast amounts of Americans' e-mail and text communications into and out of the country," looking not only for Americans who communicate with foreigners under surveillance but also for those who mention information about them. On Friday, The Guardian reported that the NSA has a previously secret backdoor allowing it to query the names of American citizens in the course of searching phone calls and emails collected about foreign targets.
These revelations led news outlets like the Huffington Post and others to ask: "Did Obama lie on national television?" And it's certainly true that the evasive language the administration uses to describe what it's doing is increasingly corrosive. The administration feels it can't reveal the details about its surveillance program, so it uses funny language and then gets caught "lying," creating an atmosphere of dishonesty and distrust. Obama's Clintonian equivocations have made this the administration of what James Clapper called the "least untruthful answer," and that seems troubling.
Rosen is being rather bashful with his scare quotes, but the title of the piece is "The Lies Aren't What Makes Obama's NSA Stance So Awful."
I'm not sure that the kind of data mining that the Administration is doing is indefensible. I think it might be possible to do it in a way that protects privacy. I am sure that the Administration has shameless lied about what it is doing, in both artful and very clumsy ways.
I remember a lot of exchanges on this blog with A.I. and others about the Administration's mendacity. I was right.
Close to the point is Mr. Obama's habit of declaring that something must be done about something which he then does nothing about. One case in point is the reform of our entitlement programs. He and nearly everyone else recognize that reforms are desperately needed. The managers of Social Security and Medicare constantly cry out in alarm. So what are the President's proposals? Don't hold your breath.
A more recent case is his speech on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. From Meagan McArdle:
U.S. President Barack Obama just gave a speech saying that he wants to reform the housing market, pulling back on the government's role as the primary backer of your mortgage. And about time.
The government currently backs about 90 percent of newly issued mortgages, through Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs. To all intents and purposes, except for very large loans to very affluent people, there is no private mortgage market in the U.S.
The president said today that he wants to change that -- to make it so that investors, not the government, are bearing more of the default risk. A fine sentiment, but he's a little vague on the details of exactly how government involvement in the mortgage market will be wound down.
That's our man. He's got a great idea there. Now: how does he propose to actually do what he says needs to be done? He doesn't. He ain't gonna. He never does. His words are cotton candy, sweet on the tongue but utterly insubstantial.