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Sen. Russ Feingold Stands Up...Again


Once again, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), has nailed it, doing exactly the right thing, acting in a courageous manner as a progressive politician should act.

It is clear to everyone in Congress that President Bush knows he's in deep political and legal trouble over his warrantless NSA spying program. It has been declared a violation of the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence law passed by Congress in 1978, and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, by a federal judge in Detroit. His justification for breaking those laws--that he is the commander in chief in a so-called “war” on terror--was summarily slapped down and tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court in the course of itsHamdi v. Rumsfeld decision in June. And anyone who thinks honestly about why the president would have decided to violate the FISA law and avoid seeking warrants for the spy program from a group of secret, top-security-clearance-rated judges in a special FISA court that has only rejected four such requests in 28 years has to admit that Bush is clearly doing something outrageous (most likely spying on his political enemies in a replay of Nixon’s actions—the very crime that led Congress to pass FISA in the first place).

My own Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican who keeps playing at liberal to the home crowd in Pennsylvania but who has shown himself to be nothing but an enabler of Bush’s constitutional crime wave, held hearings on the NSA spying. He huffed and puffed a little about its being illegal, and then came up with a proposal that, if passed by Congress, would retroactively exonerate the president of his crime against the Constitution, while establishing a new shortcut to permit the warrantless spying to continue unabated, and unmonitored by either Congress or the FISA court.

It looked like this atrocity of Specter’s was going to pass into law, but Sen. Feingold, with the help of, not Democrats, but three Republican senators he rounded up who still respect the Bill of Rights and rule of law, managed to fend it off by way of a filibuster threat.

Feingold deserves all of our thanks for this move--so uncharacteristic of his feckless Democratic colleagues, who continue to cower at the thought of an attack by Karl Rove and his media minions.

The amazing thing is that when Feingold introduced a censure motion against Bush late last year, his approval rating among Democrats and among the general population soared--a clear indication that he has the political positions that American voters are looking for. It is likely that Feingold’s numbers will jump again as news of his latest action in the Senate spreads. And yet most Democrats in Congress still remain supine when it comes to standing up to the Bush administration.

Part of the problem, as always, is the mass media, which largely ignore Sen. Feingold, or as they did in the case of his censure motion, ridicule his actions. When Feinfold proposed censuring the president, which was a bold move that only two of his Senate colleagues endorsed (and then only after intense pressure from their constituents), the New York Times buried the story on page 19. Two days later though, the paper, in a textbook example of inappropriate news judgment, ran a page-one “reaction” story, reporting that Republicans were claiming to be happy to see censure and impeachment in the news, as this would presumably “energize” their political base. Nowhere in that story was there any mention of how censure or impeachment would similarly energize the Democratic base in November.

Hopefully, Feingold will not be deterred by threats from the right, abuse by the media, or the cowardice and lack of support of his fellow Democrats, and will continue to press the fight against the Bush administration’s assault on the Constitution and on American democracy and freedom. So far, based upon his consistent opposition to “free-trade” legislation, his opposition to the Iraq War, his opposition to the Patriot Act, his censure motion, and now his effort to block passage of a law exonerating Bush expost facto of his domestic spying crimes, it doesn’t look like he is going to back down.

Right there, he has distinguished himself from the pack of weasels and poll-hugging opportunists lining up to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

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