Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Russ Feingold

The Netroots are basically putting together a red-alert push to try and save Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), after polls indicate he's in more danger than Dems realized.

This cycle, I haven't been passionate at all about Democrats. Luckily, I don't have to be -- I'm in New York, where our only big election is whether to elect Slash-the-public-services Andrew Cuomo or Slash-the-public-services-and-by-the-way-I'm-crazy Carl Paladino.

But if I were a Wisconsin Democrat, I'd be really passionate about Russ Feingold. Not because Joe Lieberman might "control the senate" as Firedoglake put it, but because of Russ Feingold. Is he perfect? No. Is he a paragon of wisdom or intelligence? No.

But he's the Democratic party's Ron Paul; willing to stand up for principles regardless of whether people think he's crazy, or what the prevailing mood of the time.

Particularly, my respect for Feingold stems from the PATRIOT Act. We all remember that as the time when the Bush Administration overreached for power blah blah, but what we should also remember is that the US Senate voted 98-1 in its favor.

That 1? Russ Feingold:
We must grant law enforcement the tools that it needs to stop this terrible threat. But we must give them only those extraordinary tools that they need and that relate specifically to the task at hand.

In the play, “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More questions the bounder Roper whether he would level the forest of English laws to punish the Devil. “What would you do?” More asks, “Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?” Roper affirms, “I’d cut down every law in England to do that.” To which More replies:

“And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast . . . and if you cut them down . . . d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake. ”

We must maintain our vigilance to preserve our laws and our basic rights.
That vote was a little more than a month after September 11th. Not a single one of his colleagues stood with him.

And he must have known that there was a 50/50 chance that this bill would come to be considered a crowning achievement of the Bush Administration, and like many of those "soft on crime" in previous years, he'd be battered about with ads showing how he would let another 9/11 happen because he's too afraid of the consequences of changing the law.

But he didn't. And his act was futile. He was willing to bring on himself all of the negative consequences without any of the positive rewards. He wasn't in a position like Ben Nelson on Health Care, where his opposition would have put him at the center of the debate. Instead, it put him at odds with his own party leadership, his own senatorial colleagues, and possibly his own voters. For nothing except principle.

Now, one senator is not just that one vote in that one moment. His actual legacy is more likely to be the mixed legacy of the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance bill. But he's an important voice on the left and it would be a shame to let him go.