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Left lacks leverage to stop Obama's rightward tack

His backtracking on a government-surveillance bill has outraged the liberal blogosphere.

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Appeal to the party's base, secure the nomination, then tack back to the center for the general election. It's a time-honored tradition in American presidential politics. And in the past few weeks Barack Obama, far more than John McCain, has made such maneuvers a nearly daily feature of his campaign.

Time to unilaterally renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the free-trade agreement that many working Americans believe threatens or has already cost them their jobs? Not so fast, Senator Obama now says. No death penalty for child rapists? The Supreme Court got that one wrong, he says. And on the court's historic assertion of an individual right to bear arms, Obama signaled approval.

Perhaps his most risky move has been to backtrack on a promise to oppose a government-surveillance bill, the so-called FISA legislation (named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978), which provides retroactive immunity for phone companies that have helped the Bush administration in its warrantless wiretapping program.

The liberal blogosphere has lit up with outrage, bemoaning how the man who promised to move beyond politics as usual is, well, engaging in politics as usual. Some have vowed to refocus their energy and donations toward progressive candidates further down the ballot. But they will still vote for Obama, not Ralph Nader, the onetime darling of the left, and certainly not Senator McCain. Not voting is also off the table, given the stakes. And so, progressive activists say, Obama is likely to get away with his rightward shift.

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