Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Russ for the weary

I should probably say something about the election. In general, the results weren't too surprising. The Republican gains were predictable and enabled by Bush's dismal approval ratings. Back in 2006 and 2008, many conservative districts voted for Dems simply as anti-Bush backlash. It is only normal that they would revert to their prior conservative leanings once the wind started blowing the other way. Yawn.

The real surprise to me was Russ Feingold's defeat. That one hurt. Just two years ago, I was talking politics with an ex-pat American coworker. I was touting Feingold as America's best senator, and expressing hope that he might someday become president.

Dylan Matthews, filling in for Ezra Klein, doesn't share my opinion. He joins some others in painting a picture of Feingold as an ineffective showboat who may only be remembered for McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. Dylan links to Neil Sinhababu's criticism of Feingold for joining the Republican filibuster of the financial reform bill. Unlike the Republicans, Feingold opposed the bill because he didn't think it was tough enough on the banks. I think both Dylan and I agree with Feingold on this point. In fact, I think Dylan agrees with Feingold on a lot of points, given his post was titled Being right isn't enough. However, the end effect on financial reform was that Scott Brown broke the filibuster threat by voting with the Dems in exchange for $18B directed largely toward banks in Massachusetts.

In Sinhababu's view, Feingold failed because the bill passed anyway, and it cost his party an extra $18B to buy a Republican vote. My view is that Feingold might have reasonably expected his party to be more eager to negotiate with him rather than the opposition. Maybe strengthening the bill or sending $18B to Wisconsin would have brought Feingold on board. My finger points at the finance-industry-friendly Democrats in the senate, not Feingold.

In any case, when I think of Feingold, I don't think about campaign reform or finance reform. What I think about are his votes on the Iraq war and especially the Patriot Act. He was joined by 22 other senators who voted against the Iraq war. Despite the poplular beat of war drums, that small minority got it right. They should be commended for that. However, not one of them joined Feingold in opposing the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act passed the senate 98-1. Think about that. 98-1. In this era of terror hysteria, one senator was willing to stand up for civil rights and vote against something called "The Patriot Act". 98-1. I'd like to call it leadership, but no one else followed, so I guess I'll call it courage.

Maybe his defeat is the price to be paid for not compromising his ideals and refusing to follow the herd. If so, I still think it was worth it. I doubt that I'll ever see Feingold in the White House, but I hope to see him back in the senate, or dare I dream, as Obama's new attorney general in 2012. Even better, how about the next justice on the Supreme Court? Would the senate filibuster one of their own?

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