Published on Saturday,
March 25, 2006 by the Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)
Feingold Stands Alone Again When Standing on Principle
by Joel McNally
By now it's no surprise when Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold steps out ahead of his colleagues in Washington on the most important political issues of the day.
In the U.S. Senate, most politicians prefer to hide under their desks during any controversy until a clear majority is formed on one side. Then they crawl through the ankles of the crowd, stand upright and pose for smiling pictures at the front of the pack.
Feingold is that rare politician who actually feels comfortable taking a principled stand even if it means standing alone.
It's a leadership style that requires, well, leading. But it's definitely not for the timid. There are no potted plants to hide behind.
The only satisfaction comes from being right from the start. Right about the war in Iraq, right about the attack on American freedoms launched under the cover of fighting terrorism and right about whether the president of the United States should be required to obey the laws we pass.
Of course, if there's anything politicians are terrified to oppose it is war. What sort of politician wants to be known as someone who is opposed to blowing up innocent civilians and turning healthy young Americans into cannon fodder?
That's why Feingold was one of the few Democrats who had the courage to vote against launching a pre-emptive war in Iraq, a country that was absolutely no threat to us since its weapons of mass destruction existed only in the fevered imaginations of the Bush administration.
There were plenty of other Democrats (and maybe even a few intelligent Republicans) who knew that going to war with Iraq was a total waste of U.S. resources and a ridiculous distraction from our real priority of pursuing Osama bin Laden and the terrorist organization that had attacked America.
The trouble was the Democrats who knew better were afraid they would never be able to run for president unless they acted really tough by voting to pour American lives down a rat hole in Iraq.
Ironically, by the time Senators John Kerry and John Edwards ran against George W. Bush, the most difficult question they failed to answer was how they could have been so dumb as to vote for Bush's unnecessary war.
It's true Iraq was run by a brutal dictator. No one misses Saddam Hussein except cartoonists.
But three years ago if we had lined up 2,400 American soldiers and asked the American people if they would be willing to sacrifice the lives of those fellow citizens so Iraqis could vote for a brand-new despot of their own choosing to run their death squads, how many Americans would have accepted the deal?
Politicians are easily spooked even when they don't have to confront issues of life and death. Sometimes all it takes to terrify them is putting a really scary name on a bill.
That is why the entire U.S. Senate, except for Russ Feingold, was absolutely petrified to vote against a bill called the USA Patriot Act. They were horrified by the vision of Republican attack ads accusing them of voting against a bill with such a glorious name.
Never mind that the bill was as dishonestly named as all of those Bush administration proposals to pollute the environment and murder wildlife that carry names such as the Sunny Skies and Happy Bunny Rabbits Act.
The USA Patriot Act should have been more appropriately titled the Totalitarian Takeover of America to Suspend Our Laws and Promote Torture Act.
Which brings us to Russ Feingold's latest and most controversial solitary stand to do what's right.
President Bush now claims he didn't even need to pass that dreadful Patriot Act. Bush's attorney general, who previously wrote an opinion giving the president the right to violate international laws on torture, has drafted another opinion stating the president doesn't need to obey any laws passed by Congress either.
Recent presidents who have acted as if they were above the law have faced impeachment. That was true of Richard Nixon, who truly committed high crimes by covering up black bag burglaries run out of the White House. And it was true of Bill Clinton, who committed the lowly misdemeanor of lying about his private sex life.
Feingold has terrified his fellow politicians without even taking the totally justified step of calling for Bush's impeachment for violating the law and lying to the American people about it.
Feingold simply suggested the Senate "censure," in effect say "tut, tut," to President Bush for violating an explicit law passed by Congress requiring the government to get a warrant before wiretapping American citizens.
Democrat and Republican politicians alike have been fleeing Feingold's resolution like cockroaches suddenly caught in the bathroom light.
It doesn't take very much to stand out amid a swarm of politicians who are terrified to even stand up.
Copyright ©2006, Capital Newspapers.