Feingold’s Transparent Feint to the Base

March 16, 2006

Doesn’t it strike you as ironic that one of the major architects of a legislative scheme that tramples all over the First Amendment had the gall to try to censure President Bush for the wireless surveillance of terrorists?

At least with the Clinton impeachment, which many wanted to dilute to a censure and others to a mere verbal wrist-slap, there was no question that he committed multiple felonies. But now Sen. Russ Feingold demands that Bush be censured over a matter on which, to quote Al Gore, “there is no controlling legal authority,” and which many believe is legal, proper, and, most importantly: imperative for our national security? And in case you missed it, Feingold said that the NSA surveillance program is precisely the type of activity the Framers had in mind in contemplating “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Right, Russ.

Feingold’s reckless ploy brings to mind the similarly frivolous stunt by Vietnam veteran John Kerry to phone in a filibuster on Judge Samuel Alito from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

Both men’s gratuitous schemes were absurd on their face and guaranteed to fail. They didn’t even garner support among a significant number of their fellow Democrats in the Senate. But what they did have in common was their perverse appeal to the Democrats’ mouth-frothing base, which is a condition precedent to securing the Democratic presidential nomination.

Overall, we must conclude that Feingold’s gambit was even more ill-conceived than Kerry’s. While Kerry’s filibuster was marginally about Alito’s alleged future enabling of President Bush’s NSA surveillance program, it was far more about his suspected stance on abortion precedent. But Feingold’s censure was only about the NSA program, and no matter how vociferously the antiwar left calls for Bush’s head, the stubborn fact is that the public supports the program.

Feingold’s move, the Democrats’ conspicuous exodus from it, and Feingold’s bitter reaction to their fecklessness, illustrate the tangled web the Democrats have weaved for themselves concerning the premiere issue of the day (and tomorrow): the War on Terror.

Feingold didn’t mince words in accusing his party of “cowering,” when they not only wouldn’t support his measure, but frantically avoided press questions about their refusal.

On that point, Feingold is correct. Democrat leaders often fold when challenged to demonstrate the courage of their so-called convictions, especially where national security is concerned. They are all over the map, or at least back and forth from east to west, because their positions aren’t based on deep-held convictions, but political calculations, which are a moving target.

We saw the exact same thing when Democrat after Democrat praised Congressman John Murtha for “boldly” calling for a precipitous withdrawal of our troops from Iraq. Yet when the rubber hit the road, they ran like a stampede of elephants to avoid putting themselves on record as supporting withdrawal.

When it comes to national security, the Democrats want it both ways. They insist they support the troops while denigrating most everything they do, from alleged torture and abuse, to not finding Osama, not training Iraqi soldiers quickly enough, terrorizing Iraqi citizens and killing innocents. They say they want to intercept phone calls from Al Qaeda, yet do everything they can to make it more difficult. They politically exploit the issue, fraudulently mischaracterize the program as “domestic” spying, imply innocent grandmas are likely victims, and demand we hamstring authorities by requiring warrants when it wouldn’t be practical.

They wag their fingers about racial profiling at airports — preferring the wanding of those same grandmas they’re trying to protect from the evil NSA — then go ape over the ports transfer to the Arab Dubai Ports World. And on the latest Bush-is-evil craze, concerning the president’s speech on preemption, let’s not forget that John Kerry himself grudgingly conceded to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he was not necessarily opposed to pre-emption, just that the president had invoked it “unwisely.” This was, of course, after Kerry had opposed it, and before, no doubt, he decides to oppose it again in time to pile on President Bush for his latest iteration of the doctrine in partial reference to the Iran nuclear threat.

My head spins as I think about this stuff. Can you imagine the spectacle of the Democratic presidential primaries, with each of the vying candidates trying to out-crazy the other to appeal to the deranged base while straining to retain a sufficient appearance of sanity to remain viable for the general election? Let them bask in news of President Bush’s low approval ratings now, but entertaining times from the other side are just over the horizon.