Stuart Reid checks in with former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold at his current job as John Kerry’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “‘I really wanted him here at the State Department because I saw him operate on the Foreign Relations Committee,’ Kerry told me. ‘He was the Senate’s expert, bar none, on Africa. He knows the region and the players.'”
A handful of notable losses notwithstanding — Tom Perriello, Alan Grayson, Phil Hare — a goodly number of the House Democrats who lost seats on Tuesday were of the Blue Dog or New Democrat variety, and the whirlwind they reaped was partly of their own making. Looks to me like Third Way-style corporate shilling just isn’t the answer.
Rather, the most painful loss of the night for progressives happened on the Senate side, when Russ Feingold fell to an idiotic Ayn Rand disciple, businessman Ron Johnson. (Wisconsin, the state of both Bob LaFollette and Joe McCarthy, is a strange place.) From fighting against the Patriot Act to calling for accountability on the illegal NSA wiretaps to, of course, battling for campaign finance reform, Feingold was often a lonely voice of conscience in the Senate, and his progressive leadership will be sorely missed there.
Of course, the fight goes on, so let’s hope Feingold will be back in public life someday soon. Big Russ has ruled out a 2012 primary shot, but if Wisconsin’s other Senator, Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl, should decide to retire in 2012 at the age of 77, Feingold would be a great candidate to go toe-to-toe against yet another “Galtian nincompoop” of the first order, current GOP golden boy Paul Ryan.
“Truth be told, I never even heard the name ‘Washington, D.C.’ until I decided to run for the Senate. When I am elected, I will have no idea how to get there or where I’m supposed to go. Will there be buildings there? Is it temperate, rainy, hot, or arid? Do people speak English in this place, this Washington, D.C.?“
Senator Russ Feingold’s Rand-loving opponent and possible successor, Ron Johnson, sums up his idiot philosophy in The Onion. “For the past 17 years Russ Feingold has done nothing but let down the people of this great state, or territory, or place, or whatever this is. He’s a D.C. insider who has well-thought-out positions on issues. I don’t know what issues are.“
I’ll reserve comment on the midterms as a whole until after we’re through the gauntlet or the ship is wrecked, one way or another. Still, as per the norm, The Onion has been deadly on-point throughout this cycle.
“‘We’ve spent countless hours over the last few days in consultation with senators who’ve shown a genuine desire to reform the health-care system,’ Reid said. ‘And I believe there’s a strong consensus to move forward in this direction.'” Yer damn skippy. The Senate health care reform bill will include an opt-out public option, mainly because Senate progressives demanded it. “Reid and the leadership faced this basic math: There is only one Snowe and there are 60 members of the Democratic caucus. If just a few Democrats abandoned the bill, it would fall short even with Snowe’s support.“
Also worth reading, Nate Silver’s concise ten-point summation of why a public option made the Senate bill. Note #1: “The tireless, and occasionally tiresome, advocacy on behalf of liberal bloggers and interest groups for the public option. Whatever you think of their tactics — I haven’t always agreed with them — the sheer amount of focus and energy expended on their behalf has been very important, keeping the issue alive in the public debate.” Keep up the good fight, y’all. This ain’t over yet.
Update: To wit, Senator Lieberman is up to his old antics: “I told Senator Reid that…if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.” Let’s remember. Lieberman — who played this same game back in 1994 — was allowed to keep his chair last November mainly on the pretense that he wouldn’t hold up important Democratic legislation. One would think this counts.
As Greenwald well notes: “All of this vividly underscores a vital point. There is simply no way that a person with even the most minimal levels of intellectual integrity could have objected to these actions during the Bush years yet defend them now that Obama is doing them, or even refrain from objecting just as loudly.“
See also Sen. Feingold’s recent and angry post on dKos this month (coupled with this statement on the Senate Judiciary committee) on the hamstringing of his attempts to revise the Patriot Act. Far too many ostensible civil libertarians in the Democratic Party have been rolling over for this administration since January — The time for giving the benefit of the doubt has passed. On this — and other crucial issues before us — it’s time to put this admin’s feet to the fire and hold the president to his word.
“‘Our health-care system is simply unsustainable,’ the Montana Democrat said during a news conference today at which he appeared without any other lawmaker. ‘It’s time to act.’” Well, at least we agree on that much. After frittering away a month trying to appease obvious GOP irreconcilables, Sen. Max Baucus finally releases the Senate Finance health reform bill. [Here it is.] Key components include co-ops, a tax on “cadillac” insurance plans (which still doesn’t make much sense to me), cheapo catastrophic insurance for people under 25, and, of course, no public option.
Suffice to say, it’s not up to snuff, and many important folks aren’t particularly happy. “On the House side, the Baucus proposal falls very, very short…Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) was disappointed by the Baucus bill, calling it ‘health care reform in name only.’” Said Rep. Anthony Weiner of the failed attempts at bipartisanship: “The Senate and the president to some extent have been like a child looking for a unicorn. I don’t see it.” Nor is HCAN amused.
“In the lower courts, according to a study Professor Long published in the Washington & Lee Law Review last year, Mr. Dylan is by far the most cited songwriter. He has been quoted in 26 opinions. Paul Simon is next, with 8 (12 if you count those attributed to Simon & Garfunkel). Bruce Springsteen has 5.“
With great lawyers, you have discussed lepers and crooks: By way of Ted at the Late Adopter, the NYT examines Chief Justice Roberts’ use of Dylan in court opinions. “Mr. Dylan has only once before been cited as an authority on Article III standing, which concerns who can bring a lawsuit in federal court…The larger objection is that the citation is not true to the original point Mr. Dylan was making, which was about the freedom that having nothing conveys and not about who may sue a phone company.”
“The court’s five most conservative members have demonstrated that for all of Justice Antonin Scalia’s talk about ‘originalism’ as a coherent constitutional doctrine, those on the judicial right regularly succumb to the temptation to legislate from the bench. They fall in line behind whatever fashions political conservatism is promoting.” In the WP, E.J. Dionne eviscerates the Scalia wing of the Roberts Court for their 5-4 decision in D.C. v. Heller yesterday. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the decision (penned by Scalia) parsed the Second Amendment in such a way as to overturn the handgun ban in the District (and seemed to simply ignore the existing precedent of US v. Miller.) As Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick deadpanned, “today’s decision ‘will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.’“
As it turns out, the Court went 0-for-2 yesterday, also deciding 5-4 (Alito writing the majority opinion) that McCain-Feingold has been prejudicial against the wealthy. In response, Sen. Feingold noted that the millionaire’s amendment was flawed anyway: “I opposed the millionaire’s amendment in its initial form and I never believed it was a core component of campaign finance reform.” Still, the decision here may not bode well for campaign finance opinions down the pike. “‘What’s most significant here is what this means for the future,’ said Rick Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School. ‘It tells us that the long-standing limits on corporate and union campaign spending are in grave danger.’”
“‘His mind is as sharp as anybody’s I’ve ever met,’ Feingold said of Obama. ‘He’s done extremely well for somebody with his level of experience.’” While he’s apparently not ready to officially endorse, Sen. Russ Feingold tells a Wisconsin paper he’s “highly inclined” to vote for Obama. Meanwhile, Obama has picked up the vote of another Wisconsan, superedelegate Jason Rae, 21, who was recently wined and dined by Chelsea. “He cited Obama’s support from an overwhelming majority of young voters as the major reason for his decision.” Update: Another super, Margaret Xifaras of MA, backs Obama. So that’s 2 today…3 if we count Sen. Feingold.
Update: Count him. Sen. Feingold tells The Nation he voted for Barack Obama in Wisconsin. “‘I really do think that, at the gut level, this is a chance to do something special,’ Feingold said of the Obama campaign and the potential of an Obama presidency, which he said has ‘enormous historical opportunities for America and for our relationship with the world.’“
“Two senior Clinton advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the race candidly, said the campaign feels the New York senator needs to quickly change the dynamic by forcing Obama into a poor debate performance, going negative or encouraging the media to attack Obama. They’re grasping at straws, but the advisers said they can’t see any other way that her campaign will be sustainable after losing 10 in a row.” Last night was grand, but there’ll be no resting on laurels just yet. The Clinton campaign redoubles its efforts in Wisconsin, putting out a new ad attacking Obama for the debate schedule. (Of course, allegations of debate-ducking is usually the last province of the also-ran. TNR, for example, dug up this campaign ad by NY Dem Jonathan Tasini attacking Sen. Clinton for…refusing to debate.) Update: A new Obama ad responds with class.
In the meantime, AP’s Ron Fournier argues that many of the superdelegates are more than ready to balk the Clintons: “Some are folks who owe the Clintons a favor but still feel betrayed or taken for granted. Could that be why Bill Richardson, a former U.N. secretary and energy secretary in the Clinton administration, refused to endorse her even after an angry call from the former president? ‘What,’ Bill Clinton reportedly asked Richardson, ‘isn’t two Cabinet posts enough?’“
But if not Richardson, what of Edwards? While Sen. Obama delves into rhetorical Edwards/Feingold country (in Sen. Feingold’s hometown of Janesville, WI, no less), ABC News suggests the Senator from North Carolina might be leaning towards endorsing Clinton at this point. That’d be a surprise, to say the least.
“‘Sen. Obama has been talking about hope and change and improving the morale of this country,’ Mr. Anchia said. ‘Gen. Patton once said that 80 percent of leadership is improving morale. And right now the country is in a pretty demoralized state and looking to get out of it, and I think Sen. Obama has the most compelling message there.’” More recent Obama endorsements of note: Rep. Rafael Anchia (representing Dallas), Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (representing the San Antonio area), and Northern Virginia Rep. James Moran (this last one, it seems, might actually hurt Obama.) Sen. Obama also seems to have made fans across the aisle in former Secretary of State Colin Powell and former Senator Lincoln Chafee. Meanwhile, checking in on the Big Three of remaining endorsements (that is, presuming Speaker Pelosi stays neutral until a candidate is decided):
Al Gore: Every few days a rumor circulates from the Clinton campaign side that Al Gore is set to endorse Obama. But, despite “unbelievable” animus reported between the Clintons and Gores, no word from the Nobel Prize-winner yet. Presumably, he’s waiting because either [a] he doesn’t want to endanger his post-partisan cachet or [b] he senses the Democratic Party might need people who seem above the fray to broker a pre-convention deal. Either way, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be getting involved anytime soon. Update: CNN reconfirms: Gore sources say he’s staying out of it.
John Edwards: Here’s where a lot of the attention seems to be at the moment, given that a Thursday meeting between Clinton and Edwards leaked, and a planned Obama-Edwards meeting today was postponed. At the moment, media speculation seems to be that Edwards’ endorsement is truly up for grabs, although as I said here, given his previous statements about Clinton’s “status quo” campaign, I’d think he’d have to be leaning toward Obama (or risk losing quite a bit of credibility.) In their report on the Clinton-Edwards meet, CNN said that two friends of Elizabeth Edwards said she preferred Obama. If that’s true, that would seem to clinch it, but one never knows, and now “sources close to the Edwards family flatly deny that she favors one candidate over the other.“
Russ Feingold: Sen. Feingold, whose endorsement may well carry more weight than that of Edwards (particularly in upcoming Wisconsin) has said he’s planning to endorse after the Feb. 19 primary. He’s previously been very critical of Edwards, and some see that playing a role in the Obama-Edwards discussions at the moment. Again, given the previous dust-ups between Feingold and Clinton, I’d think the Wisconsin Senator would be leaning Obama. But he’s spent a lot of time with both candidates, and he doesn’t look to be moving off the fence before the 19th, after which he may likely just follow the choice of his state.
In short, now that we’re past Super Tuesday, it seems the Big Guns mainly want to see how things will play out. Update: The Man Who Fell to Earth? Greg Sargent’s sources say Sen. Clinton is about to pick up a decently important endorsement in former Ohio Senator John Glenn. Hmm, that’s too bad. I’d have liked to have Sen. Glenn in our corner. Ah well, godspeed regardless.
“‘We’re hugely disappointed with the Democrats,’ said Caroline Fredrickson, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union. ‘The idea they let themselves be manipulated into accepting the White House proposal, certainly taking a great deal of it, when they’re in control — it’s mind-boggling.‘” Um, why did we put these jokers in office again? Surely not to support such flagrantly unconstitutional intrusions as this. Folding completely to White House pressure, a Democratic Senate voted 60-28 and a Democratic House voted 227-183 to sanction Dubya’s illegal wiretapping procedures. ‘The bill would give the National Security Agency the right to collect such communications in the future without a warrant. But it goes further than that: It also would allow the monitoring, under certain conditions, of electronic communications between people on U.S. soil, including U.S. citizens, and people ‘reasonably believed to be outside the United States,’ without a court’s order or oversight.” The Dems’ fallback position? They included a six-month sunset provision in the bill, so they’ll get a chance to revisit and repeat their capitulation to the executive throne early next year. But can we expect any more leadership from the congressional Democrats then? Really, this is beyond disgraceful. “‘The day we start deferring to someone who’s not a member of this body…is a sad day for the U.S. Senate,’ Feingold said. ‘We make the policy — not the executive branch.’“
“The resolution allows the use of force in self-defense, to ensure freedom of movement for humanitarian workers and to protect civilians under attack.” In a unanimous vote, the UN Security Council agrees to send 26,000 peace-keeping troops and police — a UN-AU hybrid force known as Unamid — to Darfur. “Ban Ki-moon , the UN Secretary-General, called the move a ‘historic and unprecedented operation’ that will send ‘a clear and powerful signal’ of help to the people of Darfur.” That being said, many observers — among them Sen. Russ Feingold — feel this version of the resolution has been excessively watered down to appease the Sudanese government: “If this UN resolution is passed as it currently stands, we can expect the Sudanese government to try to evade its requirements and agreements without a single consequence. Should that happen, the toll of the genocide in Darfur will continue to mount — in lives lost, in persons displaced, and in fundamental human values that the international community has failed to uphold.“
“The issue: Feingold’s recently signed campaign finance reform bill. Clinton, whose husband’s leasing of the Lincoln Bedroom had helped inspire the new law, was accompanied by an attorney. The attorney’s job: Look for loopholes, loopholes that would allow the Democrats to keep raking in soft money — unregulated, unlimited contributions to the party coffers. When Feingold objected, Clinton scolded him like Empress Livia dressing down a courtier. ‘You’re not living in the real world,’ she shouted. ‘Senator,’ Feingold responded coolly, ‘I do live in the real world, and I’m doing just fine in it.’” Hey, Hillary…want to see what a real “modern progressive” looks like? Writer Edward McClellan reviews Sanford Horwitt’s Feingold, a new biography of the Senator, for Salon, placing him in a long tradition of Wisconsin mavericks dating back to the inimitable Robert La Follette. “As Horwitt puts it, Feingold’s campaign was in the tradition of La Follette’s ‘progressives, who “mostly thought of themselves as perpetual underdogs against the big-money interests.‘”
“It was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. You ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.” Despite having had weeks to prepare, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has a terrible, no-good, very bad day on the Hill, one that results in even ultraconservative Tom Coburn (R-OK) demanding his dismissal. [Transcript: I, II, III.] I only got to hear twenty minutes or so of the hearings today (Feingold-Sessions-Schumer) while in a cab heading downtown, and Gonzales sounded absolutely terrible: He was at turns combative, befuddled, and amnesic. And when even a White House shill like Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is giving you a hard time and telling you “your ability to lead the Department of Justice is in question,” it seems pretty clear the jig is just about up.
“None of those 76 senators, who include the current Republican leader and whip, acted to jeopardize the safety and security of U.S. troops in Somalia. All of them recognized that Congress had the power and the responsibility to bring our military operations in Somalia to a close, by establishing a date after which funds would be terminated.” In an editorial for Salon, Sen. Russ Feingold invokes GOP behavior on Somalia in 1993 to make the case for Congress cutting funding in Iraq. “Since President Bush has made it painfully clear that he has no intention of fixing his failed Iraq policy, it is no longer a question of if Congress will end this war; it is a question of when.”
“Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.” I’m still furiously playing catch-up, so I’m obviously a day or two behind on blogging this…Then again, Dubya’s just as obviously three or four years behind in announcing it, so I’ll call it a wash. Nonetheless, after finally admitting that his administration has seriously screwed up in Iraq, Bush — sidestepping the suggestions of the Baker-Hamilton commission — calls for sending 21,500 more troops to the region, in what’s being billed as a “surge.” (Re: “escalation.”) When you get right down to it, Dubya’s basic argument in his televised address on Wednesday was this: “Through wishful thinking and outright incompetence, I’ve dug two nations into a huge hole. Please, please, please let me keep digging…“
Here’s the thing — A massive troop increase would’ve made a good deal of sense in 2003, during those crucial days just after the fall of the Hussein regime. A show of power then — and a quicker restoration of order and basic services — would have paid huge dividends down the road. But, now, all these years later, after so much infrastructure has been destroyed and so many sectarian schisms have been allowed to fester? 21,500 troops — many of them not fresh recruits but wearied soldiers returning to the region or having their tours extended — isn’t going to make a dent in the Whack-a-Mole game we’ve been playing against insurgents since 2003. At best, this escalation is a show of good faith to the al-Maliki government, which seems to be not much more than a brittle political arm of Shiite extremists (Exhibit A: the manner of Saddam’s hanging; Exhibit B: the refusal to do anything — until now — to rein in Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.) Yes, folks, throwing more troops at a losing situation, backing a shaky government that can’t handle its own security issues, rattling the saber at Cambodia/Iran…who says Dubya isn’t a student of history?
Fortunately, for the first time since the beginning of the war, Congress isn’t having it, with even some Republicans joining Dems in rallying against the proposed troop increase and today venting their wrath at Condi Rice before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (No doubt the poll numbers against Dubya’s plan is helping to stiffen some GOP spines.) Still, Dubya has some allies in this fight — While the Dems are universally opposed to the escalation gamble [Dem Response by Durbin | Biden | Clinton | Dodd | Edwards | Feingold | Obama | Pelosi] and a not-insubstantial number of Republicans are balking, some key GOP pols are still supporting Dubya’s move (most notably John McCain, who’s been calling for a troop increase since day one, and Rudy Giuliani, likely trying to right the 2008 ship after his recent devastating document dump.)
“I’m sure a campaign for president would have been a great adventure and helpful in advancing a progressive agenda. At this time, however, I believe I can best advance that progressive agenda as a senator with significant seniority in the new Senate serving on the Foreign Relations, Intelligence, Judiciary and Budget committees.” In a letter posted to his campaign site, Senator and progressive standard-bearer Russ Feingold opts out of the 2008 presidential race.
“[W]hile I’ve certainly enjoyed the repeated comments or buttons saying, ‘Run Russ Run’, or ‘Russ in ’08’, I often felt that if a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese had taken the same positions I’ve taken, it would have elicited the same standing ovations. This is because the hunger for progressive change we feel is obviously not about me but about the desire for a genuinely different Democratic Party that is ready to begin to reverse the 25 years of growing extremism we have endured.” Oof, I find this turn really depressing. But, he has a point, and this is probably for the best (and at least I’ve been freed from tilting at Bradley-esque windmills for the next 18 months.) At any rate, my vote in 2008 is now officially up for grabs. Update: Salon‘s Walter Shapiro and Glenn Greenwald pay respects to Russ.