Russ FeinGOLD: 24 solid karat or fool’s gold?

By: Robert E. Meyer

Wisconsin’s junior senator, Russ Feingold, has recommended that President Bush be censured for “lying” about authorizing his “domestic spy” program against American citizens. A more cautious statesman would try to temper the baseless rhetoric perpetually being thrown at the president. Feingold has instead chosen to ignite it.

Feingold, more than anything, is marking out his ideological territory in preparation for the 2008 presidential elections. It appears that Feingold has drawn first blood in an attempt to establish himself as the “Howard Dean” candidate for the Democrats in the upcoming presidential primary. No doubt Feingold wants to cast himself in the image of “Fighting Bob La Follette,” a Wisconsin liberal icon from the early 20th century. He wants to be mainstream enough to attract rank and file traditional democrats, yet radical enough to call home the malcontents who left for greener ideological pastures in the minor political party named after the same color. The latter group would now give him a ticker-tape parade all the way to the ivory mansion on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But Feingold is merely begging the question? While he calls the president’s actions illegal, his claim has never been proven. Therefore, there is no basis for his proposed censure (A refutation of Feingold’s basic charges appears here A local reader disputed my innuendo that Feingold is not really principled and independent. He asked me why Feingold also censured President Clinton if he is actually partisan in his motivation. Apparently this gentleman thought I was asleep at the wheel, or was inept in my knowledge of the recent past.

I pointed out that although Feingold brought a request for censure against Clinton, he ultimately voted Clinton innocent on both the perjury and obstruction of justice articles of impeachment. If Feingold was certain enough about Clinton’s guilt to propose censure, why vote him innocent at the end of the day–just like all the other Senate democrats did? Some independence! Shades of John Murtha saying we need to bring the soldiers home, then voting against his own resolution.

Well, maybe Feingold heard the evidence (or lack thereof) and that changed his mind? Given that possibility, one might have then expected Feingold to withhold judgment until more facts could be ascertained about the constitutionality of Bush’s terrorist surveillance policies, lest we suspect Feingold is once again premature in calling for censure. Feingold apparently never believed in the concept, “once bitten– twice shy,” nor learned from his previous mistake. Thus we have little choice, but to conclude that Feingold is either grandstanding, or showing incredibly poor discernment. Feingold knew Clinton would never be impeached, but he wanted to stand out. So much for his principle.

It is said that Feingold vowed never to accept a pay increase while in office. Well, good for him. But aren’t you getting sick of this sort of potential political gamesmanship? A politician takes this position knowing full well that there will always be enough votes to pass such a bill anyway. He also knows people will respect him for saying that taking a pay raise is out of order. But how much would 100 people giving back a few thousand dollars each really impact the national deficit? A better solution would be to say nothing, but donate the pay raise amount to a fiscally efficient public charity that helps the needy. The money would then be used more effectively then if it merely went back into the public largesse.

Feingold obviously needs to have a special place in the limelight. He was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act the first time around. He was a party to the irrelevant McCain-Feingold finance reform bill, which gave rise to the 527 political action groups that dominated the media in the last election. He’s only convinced a couple of senators to go out on a limb with him. His own party will probably distance itself from his outrageous antics out of rank embarrassment, and a fear of energizing the conservative base with the kerosene of impeachment threats.

I say, let Feingold make his accusations. But if he’s wrong about the illegality of the constitutional issues, he himself should risk being censured for his frivolous and hasty allegations, the same way as a taxpayer can be fined for filing a frivolous lawsuit against the IRS.

Feingold has also opposed the passage of legislation that would strengthen the recognition of traditional marriage. One of my relatives phoned Feingold to talk to him about support for that issue. His response was that such advocacy was mean-spirited and counter-productive. These are the specious talking points of the radical constituencies Feingold is trying to garner. What scares me most about Feingold is that I can’t distinguish his initiatives from the legal advocacy of the ultra-liberal ACLU.

So is Feingold really principled, or is he just political pyrite–fool’s gold? If he’s principled, its not the sort of principle I care to be associated with.

Robert E. Meyer is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance. Columns by this author can be read regularly on

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