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March 18, 2006

Everybody Screwed Up. Including Russ Feingold.

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Lots of people are upset about the Democrats’ initial performance on the resolution to censure Bush for his illegal wiretapping, and they’re right to be. From what I know of FISA, wiretapping without following the laughably easy conditions for getting a warrant (you can seek your warrant after you wiretap) is illegal and inexcusable. The censure resolution is totally right on the merits. The politics is a tighter issue, but a slight plurality of Americans seem to agree with it. So we need to step up and make our case. Most Democrats have better things to run on, but most Democrats don’t have to do very much to help us use this against GOP Senators from tough states. Which is just a long-winded way of saying – I agree, mostly, with Digby.   At least as far as the first week is concerned, Senate Democrats were painful to watch.

But Digby and I part ways when it comes to Feingold’s tactic of launching the censure resolution without giving the other Democrats any advance notice:

It's apparently true that Feingold didn't consult with the party. But considering the response I can sort of see his point. They are so unimaginative and so sluggish that he didn't see the use in playing the party game. If party coodination means being forced to wait for them to hold plodding press conferences about x-raying cargo boxes, then it's hard to see why anyone who wants to take the fight to the Republicans would bother.

Digby, it’s not 2002 anymore. There’s been a change in leadership, and the new leaders of our party managed to – with a clear minority in each chamber – completely wreck a freshly re-elected president’s biggest second-term proposal. United Democrats fought like hell against Social Security Privatization, and they ended up winning the biggest defensive victory in American politics since the GOP took down Clinton’s health care plan in 1994. Harry Reid’s donkey is a completely different animal from the one that Tom Daschle used to ride. Remember Bill Frist foaming at the mouth when Harry closed the Senate chamber back in the fall? Reid’s influence puts more fight into Democrats, not less – after the botched hearings, he was urging them not to rule out filibustering Alito until they had caucused, and they came out of their caucuses with a lot more fight than they went in with. Sure, they lost that one, but the effect of the Senate leadership and the big meeting was positive, not negative.

In other words, there’s no excuse for going around Harry Reid. Yes, maybe you’ll have to sit through a couple plodding press conferences on x-raying cargo boxes while we scrape off a couple extra points on national security. Maybe the censure plan will be pushed to another week and you’ll have to do it in May rather than March. Big deal. Go through the Senate leadership, and when the time comes, Democrats will be confident, not confused. And the problem here is more confusion than cowardice. Today’s Democrats can fight and win gutsy battles against the administration, and they have – they just need to be totally sure about the plan before they charge. Sure, it’s sad that they lack the minimal level of instinct that it takes to fight and win on the fly.  Similarly, it’s sad that some people are missing legs. But we don’t take away their crutches.

Russ Feingold didn’t go through Harry Reid. He grabbed the censure weapon while nobody was looking, and nobody knew until he had already fired it. Rather than a bunch of Democrats standing behind him, everyone was staring at each other wondering, “what just happened?” With planning, we could’ve fitted a media strategy around this to force hard choices on DeWine and Chafee and other GOP Senators with tough re-election prospects.  Maybe a good strategy from here on can still get us there.  (And maybe Harry Reid's "worst president ever" line is an early bit of that strategy.)  But at this point, we're going to have to build that strategy off of a botched opening. 

Now, Russ is no dummy. (If he was, I wouldn’t have bought futures on him winning the nomination over at Tradesports. His gimmick jumped them from 3.2 to 4.9.) He knows how his party does business, and he knew how this would play out. Which leads me to think that he didn’t really care about giving Democrats any advance warning and making this censure thing go right. More likely, he set it up to get the Democratic confusion that he wanted. He was perfectly happy to make dramatic speeches while his party looked silly, criticize them on Fox News (and he was quick – big speech on Monday, Fox on Tuesday), and provide the perfect backdrop for his 2008 protest candidacy. As a piece of personal political strategy, it was pretty darned good. I just wish Russ Feingold would just use that sort of smart tactical thinking on behalf of his party, and his country, rather than himself.

March 18, 2006 in Democrats | Permalink

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Comments

What's rich is the way Neil the unethical college kid and the rest of the radical left wing fawn all over Feingold when the mainstream Democrats are running from him just as fast as they can. Not one, NOT EVEN *ONE* Democrat supported Feingold's resolution. What does that tell you? (there's a mirror over to your left)
In his (and your) zeal to GET BUSH, Feingold introduced a resolution of censure when there was doubt among even his own party and among the voters in general as to guilt. Even Pelosi mentioned that there has been no process.

Please, please run Feigngold in '08.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 18, 2006 9:06:56 AM

Not one, NOT EVEN *ONE* Democrat supported Feingold's resolution.

http://irregulartimes.com/index.php/archives/2006/03/17/kerry-feingold-censure/

Posted by: Daniel A. Munz | Mar 18, 2006 9:51:20 AM

Well, your link sucked, but I was fully aware that it didn't come up for a floor vote. Why? The Democrats themselves prevented it. They ran like cockroaches when the kitchen light was turned on.
It was an idiot move on Feingold's part. He apparently does not speak for the party.

Please continue to champion him for '08.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 18, 2006 10:04:48 AM

And apparently you speak for your party that just voted to deny funding for port security.

http://thinkprogress.org/2006/03/16/port-security-funding/

I guess bashing Dems is simply therapy for you.

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Mar 18, 2006 10:08:23 AM

"a couple plodding press conferences on x-raying cargo boxes"

Upstaging and offending Clinton and Landrieau? Senators have such tender feelings. I really should go look to see who was outfront on port security.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 18, 2006 10:09:01 AM

While I was dissappointed in Senator Dayton’s statement, Feingold already has the support of some heavy hitters, Harkin, Kerry, and Boxer ( and you know that behind closed doors Harry Reid and some others support it). The problem here is probably more ego related then politics. Its impossible to find a Democratic senator and a few conservatives to boot that wouldn’t like some straight answers from the Bush House on the wire tapping. Not to mention how they used or molded intelligence on Iraq, fumbled the Katrina response, body armor, Afghanistan slipping back to control of the Taliban and poppy growers, the largest deficit in history; and if the Bushies are so great on fighting terror, why is world wide terror increasing and how did they squander victory in Iraq. Senate Republicans are mad for one reason and only one reason, Feingold’s dig at the president is also a dig at lack of real oversight by conservatives. Conservatives who have spent more time lying on their backs getting belly rubs from Karl Rove and K-Street then they have holding the administration accountable. Hence the idea that bloodless old conservatives have more then a few backbone problems, but little problem sending the young off to fight wars they themselves would never fight and spending taxpayer dollars to do so.

Posted by: Madison | Mar 18, 2006 11:20:32 AM

Meh. The key to this whole thing is that Feingold is running for President, and has apparently ceased thinking or caring about anything or anyone else.

The problem is that in the current climate, people aren't going to vote for the person, they're going to vote for the party. Feingold and the rest of the '08 candidates need to understand that, or they're just going to lose again.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 18, 2006 11:40:52 AM

Whooo!

I woke up this morning, hesitant to open this comment thread and be savaged by the pro-Feingold internet masses. But I open it, and find that my harshest critic is Fred the woman-hating stalker, who accuses me of supporting Feingold! Stephen, our foremost left-wing stalwart, just goes "Meh." I have radically misjudged the blogosphere.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 18, 2006 12:08:57 PM

Just an aside, Stephen. I know it makes more sense to vote for a group promoting policies that appeal as workable ; expecting the electorate to actually do it is another matter altogether. The Republicans are going with modified Barnum : "Never underestimate the gullibility of the public". That said, it's hard to see anything except voter backlash on the way.

Posted by: opit | Mar 18, 2006 12:25:19 PM

Opit,

I'm not quite sure what you're getting at. I was just trying to describe what I see as the reality, that the GOP has done a great job of nationalizing all politics, while the Dems still lag behind. To me, Feingold's move is a good example of this - something calculated to show his "leadership" and "courage" at the expense of his fellow Democrats. Ultimately, I believe this type of thing will cost him dearly, since voters care more about how "courageous" the party is than just the person.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 18, 2006 12:43:28 PM

Stevie,
While I can agree with you that national politics is now more 'national', I disagree that the Republicans had the sole role in this. The war and concern over national security and the roles each party has adopted have made this so.

9-11 Happens
Republicans: "Let's Roll"
Democrats: "Give peace a chance"

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 18, 2006 1:36:07 PM

I like how Fred, generally disgusted with the out-of-touch Democrats and their misguided agenda, is so appalled that Feingold would evade their message and strike out on his own without the party's legitimacy.

You really are just a hack, aren't ya Fred?

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 18, 2006 1:45:18 PM

like how Fred, generally disgusted with the out-of-touch Democrats and their misguided agenda, is so appalled that Feingold would evade their message and strike out on his own without the party's legitimacy.

Oh, Ezra,
It's not the mainstream Democrats that I am disgusted with, it's the extreme left wing who think they are the real soul of the Democrats that I am disgusted with and Feingold has demonstrated that he is, indeed, on outlier on the curve.
I'll save you the embarrassing discussion on how tacticly stupid his move was.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 18, 2006 1:51:07 PM

Well, someone should defend Feingold's unilateral introduction of the resolution.

If Feingold had gone to the Dem Sen. caucas, they would have talked about it, consulted their consultants, referred it to a committee, and finally decide it was a bad idea because they would be attacked for backing it.

The issue of the President breaking the law on obtaining a warrant to do a search (allowing even after the fact warrants), and proclaiming the right to do pretty much anything as Commander in Chief in 'wartime' (lasting, apparently, for generations) would be dead.

Instead, Feingold revived the discussion on Bush's lawbreaking, several polls have shown a closely divided public, and some Dems have discovered they really do have a backbone. Maybe more will learn too, before this is over.

Feingold wanted this issue to be discussed. He also voted against the patriot act 5 years ago - surely more of an unpopular thing in 2001 than censure is today. He wasn't accused then of opportunism to boost his presidential campaign. Is it possible he really is speaking his conscience on the censure issue? Or maybe has dual motives, both respectable?

The most interesting fact I've seen resulting from this was the ARG poll on censure and impeachment. Among Independents, 42% liked censure, and 47% didn't.

BUT, on the question: Do you favor or oppose the United States House of Representatives voting to impeach President George W. Bush?

47% favored IMPEACHMENT, and 40% did not.

Smoke those poll results in your pipe a while, and then tell me if Feingold is really out of touch with the country.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 18, 2006 2:31:32 PM

Little Baby Freddie said: It's not the mainstream Democrats that I am disgusted with, it's the extreme left wing who think they are the real soul of the Democrats that I am disgusted with.

Freddie's mom hasn't yet taught him that lies are bad things. Has Freddie established a reputation for liking mainstream Democrats, or does he bash anything left of Karl Rove or Rev. Robertson?

Or maybe this is just humor Saturday, excusing anything. I did laugh, outloud, so maybe that explains it.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 18, 2006 2:38:01 PM

Jim, what about the option of saying, "I'm going forward with this in one week, whether you like it or not" ? Then Dems would've been able to prepare a unified message instead of looking dumb, and the issue would've been forced forward.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 18, 2006 2:48:32 PM

I pretty much agree with the broad outlines of what Neil's saying. Yes, censuring Bush is a good idea, but only as political theater - and political theater has to be done smartly and executed in a way that's well-organized and has the backing of the party bigwigs. I don't think it would've been too difficult to hash together a good Bush-whacking resolution that Reid could've whipped up the party (or nearly all of the party) to get behind, as long as Feingold had gone through the usual bureacratic channels. That said, now that it's out there I expect my party to get behind it. Jesus, people, all this resolution says is that the president is not a king, and it's an act of moral cowardice to not support it.

Re: Fred: honestly, folks, if you feed him billy goats, he'll just keep squatting under your bridge.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Mar 18, 2006 2:58:02 PM

More current poll data on censure: (from Newsweek, 3/16)

Censure wins majority support from Democrats (60 percent) and one in five Republicans (20 percent) say they’d support it.

(noted also: 53% think the censure resolution was for partisan reasons, and overall, only 42% support censure).

So, 42% of all those polled support censure, despite a week of negative statements and media opinions regarding Feingold. What will the number be in a few weeks: drip, drip, drip?

Oh, and Iraq: only 29 percent of the people questioned approved Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq. Fully 65 percent disapprove.


Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 18, 2006 3:19:10 PM

Feingold wanted this issue to be discussed.

Well, he got it...at his own peril. I think Li'l Jimmy in Portland did a good job of defending Senator Feingold. That said, this issue is getting no traction with the public. The poll cited did not ask voters, those who actually know and keep up, and the link was not to the poll, but to a wacked blog site. Go there and read the criticism of this poll in the first two comments...... "enlightening" as you would say.

I think this issue is this is just another issue that the extreme left wing would like to jawbone into a 'scandal', but will fall flat as all of the rest of the 'scandals' have done.

There has been no evidence that you have offered up that changes anyone's mind about Feingold being on the extreme. His past votes alone prove that. That he might be sincere, I have no doubts. Kucinich was sincere, but still extreme. So what?

Good luck with this issue. I could be wrong, but I think it is DOA.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 18, 2006 3:19:52 PM

Neil: I think your suggestion is a good one (announcing to the caucus that he would introduce the resolution in a week). He didn't do that. Now the focus should be on the resolution - should Dems support it?

If we don't even formally protest unconstitutional acts by Bush, we don't deserve to have control of the Congress, IMO. Those who oppose totalitarianism don't get points for being nice, as they are led to slaugher, detention, or disappearance.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 18, 2006 3:30:47 PM

Lungfish is right regarding the matter of billy goats and bridges.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 18, 2006 3:52:59 PM

With planning, we could’ve fitted a media strategy around this to force hard choices on DeWine and Chafee and other GOP Senators with tough re-election prospects.

On what planet?

I can just see a bold media strategy on censuring Mr. President coming from the same Senate that so effectively fought the Alito nomination. Er.

Posted by: tatere | Mar 18, 2006 4:15:34 PM

Jim and Neil are right - woud've been smarter to do it another way, but now that it's been done, let's all try to respond to this intelligently.

I still think Feingold is too concerned about himself the presidential candidate, and I still think that's because having a "unified" (loaded word, but I can't think of a better one) party is more important than any particular person's strength of character.

However, Feingold has been quite consistent and willing to take unpopular positions. The party leadership should stand by him more. In retail, one of the worst things a manager can do is visibly refuse to support an employee. It ends up costing the business more in lost image - read: sales - than whatever it is the employee is trying to do for a customer. Same thing with the parties. Maybe censure is a bad idea. But most of the Dems rallying around Feingold's measure at least wouldn't feed into the "dems are disorganized" rhetoric.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 18, 2006 4:32:59 PM

I have to say that I agree with Neil. This censure thing is all about Feingold selling out the rest of the Democrats in the Senate to show that he has more balls than everyone else. I generally like Feingold, but the way he went about this shows that it's clearly a stunt, and that he essentially designed it to be unsuccessful, and to help only him and his presidential ambitions.

Feh! Neil's right, there's just no excuse for the way this was done.

Posted by: John | Mar 19, 2006 1:39:27 PM

Neil's right, there's just no excuse for the way this was done.
It is not a stretch to think that if warned some might have made an attempt to blunt the force of Feingold's anouncement. This is a reasonable excuse.

Posted by: persistentsound | Mar 22, 2006 7:43:04 PM

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