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March 18, 2006

The Direction of Feingold’s Message

Shakes here, doing the salon thing and responding to Neil’s piece, below.

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.

I certainly don't disagree with the sentiment behind this statement, although I believe it's predicated on an assumption that the Democrats are genuinely interested in getting behind smart tactical thinking of a bold nature—of which I've seen precious little evidence lately. I'm not convinced (though I'm open to persuasion) that, had Feingold gone through Harry Reid, he would have ended up with “a bunch of Democrats standing behind him.” I get the sense, instead, that he would have been roundly discouraged from pursuing this strategy altogether.

Depending on one’s opinion of the merits of his censure motion, that might have been a good thing, but there may be more to look at here aside from its intrinsic value dependent upon the likelihood of its success. At whom was Feingold’s message really directed? The resolution itself was clearly directed at Bush, and more generally at the GOP who facilitate his dirty deeds. But if there is, as I suspect, some truth to the idea that Feingold would have been left sans party support irrespective of his decision to work through party channels or go it alone, perhaps there was a message being sent to his own party, as well.

Maybe it’s not that Feingold was taking away the crutches from legless people, but trying to remind them that legless people don’t need crutches. Maybe he was trying to say, just because we’ve been cut off at the knees doesn’t mean we’ll never walk again.

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Well! I'm convinced. people with no legs... don't need crutches!

*g*

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 18, 2006 2:56:48 PM

Ha! See - there's always plenty to agree on.

Posted by: Shakespeare's Sister | Mar 18, 2006 3:01:17 PM

Perhaps Feingold feared that had he consulted with his Democratic colleagues ahead of time, they would have rushed to the media in order to criticize him and distance themselves from his ideas even before he was able to announce and explain his censure proposal.

Posted by: Katherine | Mar 18, 2006 3:40:58 PM

I think you're right.

The rest of this is directed at Neil:
The Democrats have utterly abdicated on human rights and constitutional issues. They think it's too dangerous, they'll be perceived as "soft on terror", and the safer thing is to say nothing.

Feingold wanted their support on this, but failing that, he wanted to make them look bad by refusing to support him.

I don't blame him. I've been working on torture issues for over two years. I've been waiting for so, so, so, so long for the Democratic cavalry to arrive. Okay, Kerry and Edwards won't mention it, but maybe after the election....okay, maybe they'll filibuster Gonzales....okay, maybe they'll back up Durbin....okay, maybe now that McCain has made it safe....okay, maybe now that every damn country in Europe is investigating "rendition"....okay, maybe with the Alito nomination....okay, maybe the NSA scandal.

The cavalry's not coming. There's a bill I've been following for a year, S. 654, outlawing rendition. Do you know how many cosponsors it has? Five. Four of them signed on the first week, the other I nagged personally. Feingold, naturally, is one.

The Graham amendment, stripping habeas from GTMO and making it impossible to enforce the McCain amendment? The Democrats were out to lunch. It passed partly on the strength of Democratic votes, and worse, some of the Senators voting for it very clearly had NO IDEA what the bill actually did, because they had never bothered paying any attention to these issues.

The NSA scandal is very, very closely related to the torture scandals. It's the exact same claim they make as the torture memo: the President is free to ignore any law that limits his commander in chief power in any way. That claim was once an embarrassment--it's now being embraced by most of the Republicans in the US Senate, and the Democrats are afraid to do anything about it because they swoon whenever Karl Rove yells "psych!" in their ear.

This will last as long as they thing that all of the politcal risk is on one side of the issue.

Well, now there's a political risk on the other side. Especially, but not only if you're running for President. It's about freaking time.

Just spare me the idea that Reid has some secret plan. He didn't. I like Reid, but I've been hoping for a secret plan for literally years. There isn't one, not on these issues, and even if Reid and the even-better-Durbin had one, they wouldn't be able to get the rest of their caucus to support it.

On a concrete level, if Feingold accomplished nothing else, he increased the chances that the DeWine bill will be filibustered. That's worth it all by itself.

One more thing: even if you disagree with all this, does it strike you as insincere? Because Feingold's been an obsessive about the rule of law and civil liberties for at least twice as long as I've been obsessive about torture and rendition. You have no basis for claiming that you know his motives and you know they're selfish.

Posted by: Katherine | Mar 18, 2006 3:49:49 PM

wow, that's weird--those last two comments are written by different Katherines.

Posted by: Katherine from 12:49:49 | Mar 18, 2006 3:51:39 PM

If Feingold, so overwhelmed with principle & concern for the nation, really wanted this to happen, he would have asked the party leadership & consulted with them first. It's not like Harry Reid is timid. If their answers were unsatisfactory, he could tell them he's going ahead with it anyway, at least that would give the Dems time to prepare themselves.

Instead he springs this on them out of the blue, and when they don't immediately fall in behind him lockstep to support the measure he blasts them publicly in the media for being gutless & cowardly the very same day. His stunt was so transparantly self serving that even Mark Dayton, one of the more liberal members of the Senate caucus expressed outrage about it.

Basically, this stunt was all about Feingold, and his future presidential run. He didn't care about this measure succeeding, he WANTED to catch his party unawares so he could publicly blast them on their spinelessness & make the net groupies swoon. Feingold is busy locking up his Presidential run & the expense of his party.

Posted by: Dustin R. Ridgeway | Mar 18, 2006 4:51:55 PM

"At whom was Feingold’s message really directed?"

It was directed at you, Shakespeare's Sister, and folks like you. It was designed to set Russ up in opposition to the rest of the Party, and enhance his profile and likeability among activist Democrats.

Nothing succeeds amongst the activist left like running against the Party.

-----

Someday the activist left is going to figure out that folks who go out of their way to set themselves up in opposition to the Democratic Party are false messiahs. That day is probably not going to be today.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 18, 2006 5:31:35 PM

Katherine, what Feingold did does strike me as insincere, since there seems to be a strictly superior option in the vicinity -- raise the issue to other Democrats, and if they don't move on it, set a date at which you're going to act unilaterally. Then, they're warned, and not confused. The difference between this plan and what actually happened is that Feingold generated public confusion, which I can't see as anything but a negative for his cause.

It should also be said that the censure issue is less substantively significant than many of the issues you've been working on. And does anyone think the Bush Administration will stop their warrantless wiretapping or torture just because a bunch of Democrats got behind a censure resolution that the GOP majority defeated? More likely, they'll try to spin it as public approval of their behavior and forge on ahead.

Whatever we can do now, it's going to be way less impressive than what we can do in 2007 when we've made some gains (who knows how big) in Congress. Possible subpoena power for investigations, more seats, and nervous GOP incumbents looking at a very Democrat-friendly 2008 Senate calendar (I think it's 21 R seats up, with like 13 D's) are going to make things easier in the future than they are now.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 18, 2006 6:27:14 PM

Nothing succeeds amongst the activist left like running against the Party.

You know, Petey, the only ones I know that actively run against the Democratic party are people like Lieberman and other Fox News Democrats.

While I agree that Feingold was acting selfishly and to set himself against the negative perceptions of the Democratic leadership, what you are talking about is something else entirely. Anyway, what is this "activist left" you speak of, and why is it so bad? Are there liberals who protest and sign petitions, who write letters to the editor and such? Yup. Are there conservatives who do the same thing, often in greater numbers? Yup. In fact, I would say that the "activist" base of the GOP is much more extensive, and much of their current success is due to that fact.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 18, 2006 6:27:49 PM

"Nothing succeeds amongst the activist left like running against the Party."

Interesting opinion. I don't know if I neccessarily agree with it, but it is interesting in light of the never ending Joe Lieberman extravaganza, of who'm the main accusation is most often not that his individual votes are the problem, but that his public criticism of his Democratic colleagues & positioning of himself as the "Good Democrat" who distances himself from the National Party is ultimately bad for the Democratic Brand. I'm not saying the parallels between Feingold & Lieberman are perfect & exact, but there's enough of them there to make a case for hypocrisy regarding the constant scolding of Holy Joe & the starry-eyed accolades for Feingold.

Posted by: Dustin R. Ridgeway | Mar 18, 2006 6:36:46 PM

Very entertaining folks.....and informative.
In one camp we have the "Feingold is a man of conscience", in another we have "Feingold is a selfish bastard that is setting himself up for the presidency at the expense of his party" and last, but not least "Feingold is a crafty fox who did an end-run around his party that surely would have quashed his bill".

The sad truth is Feingold did what he did because he is an idiot, and that can be defined in different ways by different camps. However, all will agree that he fucked up.

Here's my question: If presentation of this issue is crucial to any success, then how much substance is there anyway? Peolosi said there was no process.
Hey, Nixon was busted. It didn't matter how it was presented. Clinton was caught lying to anyone with ears. It was not a question of how to get this out. However, with this issue, it seems that success is (would have been) dependent on the nuances of presentation and that alone speaks volumes about how juicy this issue really is.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Mar 18, 2006 7:47:32 PM

"Anyway, what is this "activist left" you speak of"

They are lefties who take some role in communicating their leftism to others.

They are a relatively small percentage of the party as a whole, and they tend to hold positions to the left of the party as a whole. They often seem oblivious to both of those points.

"and why is it so bad?"

I don't think the activist left is bad. I'm a part of the activist left. I don't think I'm bad.

My major complaint about the bulk of the activist left is that they are perpetually seduced by purity into ignoring pragmatism, and so marginalize themselves and hurt the left.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 18, 2006 8:05:04 PM

"it is interesting in light of the never ending Joe Lieberman extravaganza, of who'm the main accusation is most often not that his individual votes are the problem, but that his public criticism of his Democratic colleagues & positioning of himself as the "Good Democrat" who distances himself from the National Party is ultimately bad for the Democratic Brand."

I think that common explanation is extremely disingenuous. Lieberman is under siege for two reasons, and two reasons only. #1 is that he was basically the only Democrat who was an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq war. #2 is that he was willing to frontally take on Dean in 2003 when no other Democrat was willing to recruit that many future enemies. End of story. Markos has his own, relatively easy to understand, reasons for wanting to frame things the way he's trying to frame them, but he's being disingenuous. Take away Holy Joe's support for the Iraq war and his attacks on Dean, and there'd be no Ned Lamont.

-----

As to the question of moral equivalence between Russ and Holy Joe, I'd basically go along with that. They both try to gain benefits from their deviation from the party line, although in radically different ways. They both seem to believe their own press clippings.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 18, 2006 8:26:53 PM

"the only ones I know that actively run against the Democratic party are people like Lieberman and other Fox News Democrats."

You really ought to check out Russ's TV appearance last week where he slammed the Democratic Party in pretty harsh language on . . . Fox News.

I'd suggest that you find this OK while not finding Lieberman's appearances OK because you agree with Russ's position while not agreeing with Holy Joe's position.

And you might want to check out some of the Dean speeches from his heyday in 2003. In the "red meat" attack sections, Dean goes after two targets: Bush and the Democratic Party. Dean actively ran against the Democratic Party for most of 2003.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 18, 2006 8:40:27 PM

Petey,

It's obvious that we see things pretty differently. Lieberman was not the only Dem supportive of the war, and until very recently there was no better way to alienate one's self from the rest of the Dem party than to fail to mock Howard Dean. Since the party leadership hasn't listened to us "hard lefties" about Roberts, Alito, bankruptcy, the Patriot Act and many other issues, I think it is absurd to think that Dean is chairman of the DNC because the screaming hordes of Dailykos readers wanted it.

Speaking of Roberts/Alito, I would say that Lamont's viability as a candidate has more to do with Lieberman's handling of those two than anything else, certainly than any supposed lack of support for Dean.

I understand that candidates try to distinguish themselves from the field and often from the rest of the party. But there's doing that and there's doing that. I still think that Feingold went too far with this.

This, I can agree with:

My major complaint about the bulk of the activist left is that they are perpetually seduced by purity into ignoring pragmatism, and so marginalize themselves and hurt the left.

However, the GOP has its own activist right, and as I have pointed out, this does not hurt them in the least. What they have learned to do is channel that energy and zeal into productive avenues for themselves. Without cynically exploiting the naivete of true believes, I think it should be possible for the Dems to do the same, rather than just dismissing them out of hand.

Posted by: Stephen | Mar 18, 2006 9:36:42 PM

alright petey, if I think more democrats should behave like Feingold, is it more pragmatic for me to support feingold or is it more pragmatic to tut-tut him?

And if my support of feingold is one of those ideological purity things where I'm out in left field viz-a-viz the majority of democrats or potential democrats, what possible difference does my manifestation of said support make? Since the geniuses running the democratic party are gonna play the numbers anyway, no?

Posted by: Jedmunds | Mar 18, 2006 10:00:14 PM

"However, the GOP has its own activist right, and as I have pointed out, this does not hurt them in the least. What they have learned to do is channel that energy and zeal into productive avenues for themselves."

When I first read this, I agreed entirely. Then I realized that I had been misreading the bolded "they", as I am about to try to illustrate...

"Without cynically exploiting the naivete of true believes, I think it should be possible for the Dems to do the same, rather than just dismissing them out of hand."

At first I thought "they" meant the activist right. Then I realized "they" meant the GOP. And now I don't agree as much.

I think you put too much responsibility on the party and not enough on the activists. The "activist right" is the entity that has learned to productively channel their activities. And likewise, it's up to the activist left to learn that same lesson, not up to the Dem party to learn how to channel the activists.

In my view, the activist right has, over the period of a couple of decades, learned how to push the Republican party toward pushing the activist right's concerns while simultaneously being very conscious of electability concerns. The activist right has recognized that if they aren't conscious of electability concerns, they will either be shunned as an albatross, or have their influence over a minority party.

The activist left needs to learn those particular lessons.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 18, 2006 10:22:41 PM

Jedmunds Your numbers game reference reminded me of something in sales that was counter-intuitive to a guy who believed in steady application : if you don't go for the long shots you'll never excel.

Posted by: opit | Mar 18, 2006 10:29:56 PM

"alright petey, if I think more democrats should behave like Feingold, is it more pragmatic for me to support feingold or is it more pragmatic to tut-tut him?"

If that's your one and only concern, you ought to support Feingold.

If it's also a concern of yours that there should be more Democrats overall, you ought to tut-tut Feingold for going reasonably far out of his way to attack the Party.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 18, 2006 10:33:27 PM

The element of surprise is crucial for press coverage and for, again, making it politically costly, or at least politically risky, for the Democrats to continue to ignore these issues.

He would prefer support to this, but he prefers this to being ignored. He's not being a team player, but he's beating up on his team for principled reasons. Certainly at least in part.

They look terrible, do they not? Feingold impressed some people and annoyed others. Is ANYONE impressed with the rest of the caucus' response?

And I think Feingold's gambit might help kill DeWine's godawful bill. That would be a very big contribution, more important than actually getting center.

Sure I'd trade censure for subpoena power in a heartbeat if you could guarantee me that, but you can't. If they'd played this right it'd help in the fall elections, and even handled ineptly I doubt it'll make a difference.

THe DLC talks as if EVERY SINGLE VOTE is going to decide the election, and therefore every single time you sell out for electability is worth it. By definition, that can't be true, and after being sold out on hundred of votes and issues and having no power at all to show for it, the promise wears thin. It'll never be the right time act for this crowd. Never, never, never.

It's kind of amusing to be portrayed as raving lunatics on this when the people I know who are most upset are a bunch of staid Con Law professors. You guys ever read Balkinization?

Posted by: Katherine | Mar 18, 2006 11:38:28 PM

and by the way--if you think the "activist left" is bad now, you would hate to see what we'll be like during the 2008 primaries if the "maybe the drunk will hit himself in the head" strategy does not succeed in winning either house of Congress, marking its third straight general election failure.

I'm aware of the structural difficulties with gerrymandering and the red state advantage in the Senate, and I don't actually expect us to take either house. But those difficulties will be present for a long time to come, and we knew about them in advance.

Electability has become a default assumption that doing the right thing is politically unsafe. It's often a lousy assumption. The polls on censure aren't great, but they're fine, considering the utter lack of leadership on the NSA issues. And remember how the Democrats were silent during the Schiavo debate because they thought the Republicans' position was more popular? To say nothing of whether we'd be better or worse off now, politically, if most of the caucus had voted their conscience on the damn Iraq vote.

Everything is relative to the media. How reasonable or extreme a position is is determined solely by the number of Democrats and Republicans holding it. And we've all noticed how poll results swing twenty points based on how you phrase the question. So the NSA issue or the torture issue becoming box-office poison is an almost entirely self-fulfilling prophecy. The DLC strategy takes no account, no account at all, of how the press covers these stories.

Posted by: Katherine | Mar 18, 2006 11:51:30 PM

I'm going to show my age. The left being "over-the-top" these days hasn't got to the stage of students being shot. It has happened in the past so I'll reserve the right to think that whatever is going on now isn't as exciting as has been before ; just my perspective.

Posted by: opit | Mar 19, 2006 12:47:59 AM

This hasn't been clearly expressed in this comment thread, but I do support censure and think it's a reasonably good move. Please don't confuse me with the DLC no-fighting types; I did support an Alito filibuster and I was pretty upset when the Senators on Judiciary gave the game away.

I support slugging it out with Republicans; I oppose incompetently slugging it out with Republicans.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Mar 19, 2006 1:12:34 AM

"The element of surprise is crucial for press coverage and for, again, making it politically costly, or at least politically risky, for the Democrats to continue to ignore these issues."

That makes absolutely no sense.

"He would prefer support to this, but he prefers this to being ignored. He's not being a team player, but he's beating up on his team for principled reasons."

Bullshit. He's doing no such thing. He's beating up on his team (and he was awfully quick getting on the chat show circuit to do it) for political theatre because taking a bold move against Bush and then accusing your caught unawares collegaues of being spineless impresses the net groupies & other factions easily impressed with "speaking truth to power" and builds up his profile at the expense of the party.

Ultimately the greatest detriment to a censure measure succeeding may be Sen. Feingold himself. I sure hope 2008 was worth it.

Posted by: Dustin R. Ridgeway | Mar 19, 2006 1:39:12 AM

"It's kind of amusing to be portrayed as raving lunatics on this when the people I know who are most upset are a bunch of staid Con Law professors."

Sure. If you're a staid Con Law professor, you're most upset about things like FISA and Hamdi. If you're an environmentalist, you're most upset about things like opposing Kyoto and ANWR. If you're a pro-choice activist, you're most upset about the Supreme Court. If you're a democratic socialist, you're most upset about the increasing division of wealth. If you're a ...

...well, obviously, I could go on.

If you're any of these people, you should be most concerned with building a big tent Democratic electoral coalition that can govern for a generation so that it might become even possible to address some of these things at the governmental level.

Posted by: Petey | Mar 19, 2006 3:51:21 AM

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