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March 14, 2006
Feingold Isolated By Angry Caucus

Senator Russ Feingold has discovered the key difference between leadership and grandstanding. The former involves motivating a group of people to follow your lead by engaging the group's enthusiasm for your direction. The latter involves making decisions for others without bothering to consult them. Democrats have made clear that Feingold is a party grandstander and not a leader:

Wisconsin Sen. Russell Feingold accused fellow Democrats on Tuesday of cowering rather than joining him on trying to censure President Bush over domestic spying.

"Democrats run and hide" when the administration invokes the war on terrorism, Feingold told reporters.

Feingold introduced censure legislation Monday in the Senate but not a single Democrat has embraced it. Several have said they want to see the results of a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation before supporting any punitive legislation.

Republicans dismissed the proposal Tuesday as being more about Feingold's 2008 presidential aspirations than Bush's actions. On and off the Senate floor, they have dared Democrats to vote for the resolution.

Feingold's fellow caucus members have watched as the presidential hopeful pushed them into an embarrassing Hobson's choice. On one hand, they could follow Feingold and fight to censure George Bush for taking action to protect America from terrorist attack -- measures that have found approval by two-thirds of American voters -- and reinforce the widely-held belief that the Democrats have no stomach for taking the necessary steps to protect the nation. The censure would never work, however, since the Democrats only have 45 votes in the Senate, and not even all of those would ever agree to support it.

The Democrats chose the only other option, which was to run away as fast as possible from the Wisconsin senator. That made them look craven and disorganized while allowing Feingold to roar with righteous indignation at their failure to support him. That posturing may sell well with the far-left netroots but it won't with his colleagues. Raw Story has apparently spoken with staffers on the Hill and discovered that Feingold never bothered to consult with any of his caucus before launching this ridiculous effort:

While mainstream media outlets have pounced on the fact that Democrats blocked an effort by one of their own to censure President Bush over his warrantless wiretapping program, RAW STORY has found that Senate Democratic offices are fuming. The proposal to censure the President was introduced on a Sunday talk show by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI).

Though all say they believe the program warrants "more investigation," several Senate aides rebuked Feingold for proposing censure. They say that his move had the potential to derail Democratic efforts to strengthen the party's image on homeland security issues, noting that a large part of the country believes the eavesdropping program should continue. Bush has defended the program, calling it a "terrorist surveillance" program, and has used aides to defend its legality.

Strikingly, some of the criticism came from liberal Senate offices.

One longtime Senate aide was particularly scathing.

“Feingold’s grandstanding screwed the pooch and played into Bill Frist’s hands," the aide said. "Thank God Dems punted this down the field. Frist was going to force Democrats to vote on a resolution Feingold had kept a big secret and he would’ve split the caucus on an issue that needed time to get the whole caucus to support. Russ Feingold had only one persons’ interests in mind with his Sunday bombshell, and those were his own. He practically handed a victory to a Bush White House that desperately needs a win.”

Frist doesn't plan to let up, at least not at the moment, although Jon Kyl told Hugh Hewitt that the Senate needed to focus on more pressing matters. Frist put a statement on his blog that makes his intentions clear:

Yesterday I attempted to bring Senator Feingold's resolution to censure President Bush to the Senate floor for a vote. That moment was a great chance for the Democrat Party to stand on their "principles" and vote. The Democrat Minority objected.

Why? Because they don't want a vote.

Senate Democrats hoped the Republican leadership would block a vote. Better to score points with the far left and throw sand in the eyes of the American people so Americans could not see what this resolution really means: the Democrats are incapable of leading America.

I am determined to put the Democrats on the record. I want a vote. I want to know where Hillary Clinton stands on this censure? How about John Kerry? What about their leader Harry Reid? More importantly, I want the American people to know.

Amazingly, the Democrats don't like the idea of a vote for Feingold's motion. None of them want to go on record either for or against censure, arguing as Raw Story noted that they prefer to say that the matter needs more investigation. A vote for censure would alienate the voters who want the government to track international calls from suspected terrorists and don't see a need for a warrant during wartime to do so. A vote against censure would alienate the netroots and threaten the money supply during the midterms. Small wonder that Frist wants to force them into a roll-call vote on the motion as soon as possible.

Feingold may think that he's some sort of crusading avenger for the Democrats, but his caucus has a significantly different impression. He may have just turned himself into the Dennis Kucinich of 2008, even if the original Kucinich runs again. He'll be lucky to get a handshake on the campaign trail after the primary debates.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 14, 2006 7:50 PM

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