Barack Obama is busy with his campaign, and a good candidate knows when to delegate, so our Democratic nominee is handing off his principled indignation to a Democratic surrogate, fellow Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin.
It was almost a week ago that America learned that its Democratic House had rolled over to a Bush Administration that was already counting on a late-term defeat and voted for immunity for telecommunication companies for any violations of Americans’ privacy they may or may not have committed at the behest of the President and his team. Most Democrats shrugged and dejectedly kicked the dirt at their feet, conceding that this bill smelled like John Daly after 16 holes on a hot August Saturday, but what could they do? You go to the floor with the bill you have, not the bill you want.
To hear some Republican lawmakers tell it, the outgoing Bush Team was very nearly stunned at their good fortune. Said Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, “I think the White House got a better deal than even they had hoped.”
The Senate vote wasn’t due to take place for a week or more, but there was no shortage of acquiescing Senate Dems lining up to stand before the steamroller, even if it wasn’t going to get there for awhile.
Front and center–the center being where his pre-election summer ideological travel plans seem to be taking him–was Senator Obama. The Dem nominee was as tepid in his endorsement as many of his fellow exoskeletal lawmakers. “I do want accountability, and making sure, as I’ve said before, someone is watching the watchers,” Obama said. But he’s voting for the bill anyway.
This is the unfortunate kind of equivocation that takes hold when you’re running for President, just like a few hours before closing time at the tavern, when you make your eleventh hour calculation and decide you’d rather wind up with the zaftig gal in the Journey tee-shirt smoking GPCs rather than heading home and finishing the night with your dick in your hands. It’s not pretty, it’s not dignified, but you’ll take the sloppy win over a principled loss. Besides, like that tavern cruiser, the closer you get to Presidential campaign closing time, you’ve been downing highballs of perceived power for a long time, and your judgment just isn’t what it was when you sat down at that barstool so many hours ago.
Then there are others who can hold their liquor and their ground on their personal convictions at the same time. One of those was Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold.
While Obama flipped on his promise of just a few months ago that he would filibuster any bill that offered immunity to the telecoms, Senators Christopher Dodd and Russ Feingold have stepped up and vowed to hold their own against this vote for as long as they can sustain it. When the House passed their bill last week, he called it “not a compromise. It is a capitulation.”
“This bill will effectively and unjustifiably grant immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program–a program that more than 70 members of this body still know virtually nothing about. And this bill will grant the Bush Administration–the same administration that developed and operated this illegal program for more than five years – expansive new authorities to spy on Americans’ international communications . . . There is simply no question that Democrats who had previously stood strong against immunity and in support of civil liberties were on the losing end of this backroom deal.”
Now that’s some campaign trail newsreel shit. It’s just a shame that Senator Obama is spending more of his time punching buttons on the electoral calculator than standing up for his erstwhile positions.
Russ Feingold doesn’t own a calculator, it seems, and that’s served him well. He’s stood against the Iraq War since Day One, and in deciding against running in 2008, urged voters not to support anyone for the President in 2008 who ever supported the war, whether they eventually claimed to regret their vote or not. That may have explained why Hillary didn’t spend a lot of time in the Badger State leading up to February’s primary.
He’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. He has the same fearlessness and contempt for Executive Branch arrogance as Virginia’s Jim Webb. In early 2002, when the Bush Administration hadn’t yet squandered the goodwill America had gained from 9/11, and was using the sympathy dividend to ram the Patriot Act through Congress, Russ Feingold was one of the few senators who had the clarity to see and the courage to pound the podium and announce that the President was using the legitimate fear and outrage over the terrorist attacks to put a few too many bootprints on America’s civil liberties. (“Protecting the safety of the American people is a solemn duty of the Congress; we must work tirelessly to prevent more tragedies like the devastating attacks of September 11th. We must prevent more children from losing their mothers, more wives from losing their husbands, and more firefighters from losing their brave and heroic colleagues. But the Congress will fulfill its duty only when it protects both the American people and the freedoms at the foundation of American society. So let us preserve our heritage of basic rights. Let us practice that liberty. And let us fight to maintain that freedom that we call America.”)
There are a lot of people who wished that Senator Feingold had tossed his hat in the ring this year, or that he’d even made himself available as the Dems’ running mate. Even if Senator Feingold were willing, Obama would be a fool if he were to squander a potential Senate surrogate and waste him on the Vice Presidency. On the other hand, it would be hugely entertaining, and with the steady stream of hectoring and reality checks coming from the other office in the West Wing, a President Obama with a Vice President Feingold would have a new appreciation for the term “Badger State.”