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George W. Obama? With NSA spying, Obama feels wrath of the left

President Obama is having to explain and justify NSA surveillance of millions of Americans' phone records and Internet use. Critics on the left say he's too much like former president George W. Bush.

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President Barack Obama pauses while speaking in San Jose, Calif., Friday. The president defended his government's secret surveillance, saying Congress has repeatedly authorized the collection of America's phone records and U.S. internet use.

Evan Vucci/AP

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Into his fifth year in office, President Obama knows well attacks from the right. Obamacare, Benghazi, IRS shenanigans, he’s taken his lumps from Republicans and conservative activists. “Impeach him!” many cry. Only occasionally is he whacked from the left (see Guantánamo Bay prison camp).

But these days, it seems like the roles are reversed. Liberals are after Obama, while the likes of Republican political operative Karl Rove are in his corner.

The subject, of course, is government secret surveillance of phone records, a vacuum-cleaner approach whose purpose is heading off terrorist attacks but which pokes into what most people think of as private information.

“Big Data,” we are told, now includes the ability to surreptitiously obtain and store information from e-mail and social media, deriving information about peoples’ habits, friendships, and preferences using data-mining formulas and increasingly powerful computers. And you thought those full-body scanners at the airport left you feeling a bit … naked.

As president and commander-in-chief in charge of preventing the next terrorist attack, Obama has to take responsibility and explain such snooping to the American people, which he tried to do Friday in California.

Still, says former vice president Al Gore, the recently-reported electronic spying is “obscenely outrageous.” The American Civil Liberties Union calls it “beyond Orwellian.”

David Corn at Mother Jones suggests that “the Obama gang may finally have a real scandal on its hand – not a scandal of wrongdoing or unethical conduct, but one of government overreach.”

The unkindest cut of all? That Obama is the same here as the man who launched the Iraq war, and then followed up with secret domestic spying – a point made angrily from the left and gleefully from the right.

“Drone strikes. Wiretaps. Gitmo. Renditions. Military commissions. Obama is carrying out Bush’s fourth term, yet he attacked Bush for violating the Constitution,” Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush’s press secretary, told Politico.com, adding that Obama was “vindicating Bush.” You can almost hear the glee in his voice.

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