One of the few points that Right and Left agree on these days is that the Democratic Party is seriously screwed up. We disagree as to how and why it is screwed up, yes. But even the party’s most loyal supporters can be driven to despair by what passes for Dem Party leadership.
Robert Kuttner’s opinion piece in today’s Boston Globe illustrates a part of the problem. Kuttner quotes Harry Reid singing the praises of Senator Russ Feingold:
”An example of how people really appreciate your standing up for what you believe is Russ Feingold, the only person [in the Senate] to vote against the Patriot Act — the only person. The Republicans in 2004 spent tons of money going after him on that one issue, and it didn’t matter because people believed that Russ Feingold did it because he thought it was the right thing to do.”
How nice. But, Kuttner writes,
Now, the Patriot Act is about to be extended, with only the most trivial sops to civil liberties. And guess who is all alone, yet again?
Senator Russ Feingold.
When Democrats agreed to support an extension making only superficial changes, Feingold vowed to filibuster. On Thursday, the Senate voted to end debate. Exactly two other senators voted with Feingold. One was octogenarian Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who carries a copy of the Constitution around in his pocket. The other was the flinty former Republican Jim Jeffords of Vermont, the Senate’s lone independent.
Reid, who so admires Feingold’s courage, left Feingold all alone yet again.
This reminds me of what the Dems did with Congressman Jack Murtha. Murtha had the courage to stand up and present an alternative to the Bushie “stay the course” Iraq policy. Once the inevitable personal smears of Murtha, including slanders of his service record, picked up steam on the Right, it seems to me most Democrats retreated behind cover and left Murtha alone and exposed. This in spite of the fact that Murtha’s proposal polled well, as Chris Bowers explained at MyDD last month. Chris wrote,
People want to hear alternatives on Iraq, and they like what Murtha has proposed. Republicans would rather slander a veteran. If only we had an administration in charge of this country that was willing to listen to strong, pragmatic, and popular approaches to policy, rather than one that is hellbent on theory, ideology, and national division. If only we had a Democratic opposition that was willing to support strong, pragmatic, and popular ideas on troop deployment in Iraq when those ideas arise from within their own ranks. Right now, I don’t think we have either.
I’ve written before that the Dems in Washington are so snakebit by the VRWC that they won’t stand up for progressive policy proposals even when polls show strong popular support for those proposals. Makes me crazy, I tell you.
Feingold didn’t pay a political price for voting against the Patriot Act. “Indeed, last year, when John Kerry carried Wisconsin by a bare 12,000 votes, Feingold sailed to reelection by more than 330,000 votes,” Kuttner says.
So what are the Dems afraid of?
What better moment to reign in Bush’s extra-constitutional power-grab than when the Patriot Act is up for review? But, no. That might seem ”un-Patriotic” (get it?). As Feingold declared,”If Democrats aren’t going to stand up to an executive who disdains the other branches of government and doesn’t worry about trampling on the rights of innocent Americans, what do we stand for?”
Good question. As Harry Reid correctly observes, Bush can wave the bloody shirt of 9/11 all he wants; voters don’t punish legislators such as Feingold who stand up for principle. One such principle, surely, is that this nation must remain a constitutional democracy. That notion is also good politics. It has been since 1789.
Feingold’s courage needs to be honored, not by celebrating him as a brave loner, but by following his leadership. Legislators of both parties need to preserve our liberties, despite ominous claims of permanent war and unchecked power. If not, God save the Republic.
I think a large part of the Dems’ problem is that too many influential Dems — Hillary Clinton comes to mind — won’t lead, won’t follow, and won’t get out of the way.
If you google for “what’s wrong with democrats” you are treated to a wealth of opinions. The answer is economic populism, says one. Or they need to have vision. They need think tanks like the righties’ think tanks. They need to pay attention to the base. They need to ignore the base. Whatever.
I’m thinking that Step One might be to learn to watch each others’ backs. Until they learn to do that, I’m not sure “vision” will help them much.
See also: Michael Grunwald, “In Defense of Finger-Pointing“