Ryan Lizza isn't a complete idiot, his piece on Gold Bars Luskin is the best I've read and I thoroughly enjoyed his portrait of McCain's unprincipled backdown from the steel-caged death match with Grover Norquist now that he's eyeing the white house. But since his TNR piece on Feingold this week is emblematic of much conventional wisdom he is, for the moment, a useful idiot:
Feingold is thinking about 2008. Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, and other Democrats are thinking about 2006. Feingold cares about wooing the anti-Bush donor base on the web and putting some of his '08 rivals--Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Evan Bayh--in uncomfortable positions. Reid and Schumer care about winning the six seats it will take for Democrats to win control of the Senate. Feingold cares about making a political point with a measure that has no chance of succeeding and which, even if it did, would have no actual consequences.Scott Lemieux dispatched the inherent absurdity of this Bayh-esque statement yesterday, to wit: How is changing the law going to deal with the problem of a President who doesn't think he has to obey the law? It doesn't even make sense on its own terms.
So the partisans on the left cheering Feingold appear to have both the policy and the politics wrong. Censure is meaningless. Changing the FISA law is the way to address Bush's overreach. And the only way for Democrats to change FISA is for them to take back the Senate. This week, Feingold's censure petition has made that goal just a little bit more difficult to achieve. What an ass.
But I'd like to address the wholehearted swallowing by the Democratic establishment that this startling little bit of GOP group-think represents. As Jamison Foser says today (via Atrios):
Osama bin Laden may be dead? Good news for Republicans: They got bin Laden! New tapes prove bin Laden is still alive? Good news for Republicans: It reminds people of the threat of terrorism! Democrats don't criticize Bush? Good news for Republicans: Democrats are timid! Democrats do criticize Bush? Good news for Republicans: Democrats are shrill!That's basic marketing 101, no matter what happens it's good for your team. It shouldn't be surprising to anyone that the media has internalized this so thoroughly they don't even know what they're doing; more puzzling is the fact that the Democrats now seem to be doing so as well.
If you're fighting a war you intend to win, you never. Ever. Say. That. Ever. So when token Democrats like Eleanor Clift step up and say Feingold's actions help the GOP, it can only be reflective of what Digby articulates so well: individuals (not the party) who have decided their lives will be made easier if they just stop resisting, lie back and learn to enjoy being throttled. Russ Feingold's fight -- our fight -- makes it uncomfortable for them to do that. Is there any other reason why they should be oh so much more exasperated with our exasperation than with, say, the President himself?
Even Bill Kristol today acknowledges the political efficacy of Feingold's move :
Kristol: I think Feingold has succeeded in casting a big cloud over the President's program.Watch the tape at Crooks and Liars. Brit Hume's head explodes. Tell me he is a Republican happy about these charges being made? His only answer is to cook up a lie about Rockefeller, who most certainly has said he doesn't have enough information about the program. Hume fumbled with nary a Democrat in sight.
Wallace: Do you think it's helping Democrats and hurting Republicans?
Kristol: Absolutely, as long as the charge is out there and not rebutted?
Hume: That is absurd. No politician among those who have been thoroughly briefed on this claims the briefings were insufficient and vagueÂ Rockefeller does not claim that. Rockefeller has said many things about this program, but he has never said that he wasn't fully briefed that I know of.
The idea that somehow this will hurt the Democrats in the 2006 election is beyond witless. That Feingold is being selfish, only stoking his own 2008 chances, throwing 2006 to the dogs. Please. Can someone explain to me how forcing the Republicans to rally around an unpopular President just as they're trying to distance themselves from him is going to hurt the Democrats? Lincoln Chafee knows it -- he's in the fight of his life for his Rhode Island Senate seat, and is notably the only Republican who said Feingold has raised good points and he wouldn't rule out voting for the measure.
If someone had the guts to hammer that wedge they'd put Chafee in an awfully uncomfortable position vis-a-vis BushCo (who must've kicked the shit out of him over it, because he backed down mighty quickly). Isn't that what Lizza says they're desperate to do? But they don't. They send Evan "Lemming" Bayh to trash Russ Feingold.
It was nice to see Dick Durbin back Feingold up this morning, even if he didn't come out and say he'd vote for the resolution. In doing so he seems to be bucking the one thing the Senate Democrats have been quite good at holding party solidarity on -- something they couldn't muster to oppose putting a rabid, Dobson-loving fundamentalist on the Supreme Court.
Is Bill Kristol the only one who's going to point out the obvious? Not only is Russ Feingold rallying a disspirited base frustrated with lack of leadership on the part of big Senate Democrats, this is a full-on disaster for the GOP in November.