Integrity Narcissism

I like Russ Feingold, but I think Mark Kleiman makes a good point about Feingold and the financial reform bill. Feingold was the only Democrat who voted with the Republicans against cloture. He did this because he didn’t think the bill was good enough, and I suspect I would agree with all of his objections.

However, Mark says, because Harry Reid had to compromise with some “moderates” so the bill could be voted on, it was watered down even more. Mark writes,

With the W.Va. seat still vacant, that meant that Reid needed Snow, Collins, and Scott Brown, as well as Ben Nelson. … The bill as passed exempts at least three major sources of consumer maltreatment in the financial market: car loans, payday loans, and check-cashing services. It omits the $19B bank tax to pay for bailouts. It has a very weak form of the “Volcker rule,” thus leaving the country exposed to future meltdowns. Those concessions were the price of those last four votes.

Mark goes on to say that Feingold suffers from “integrity narcissism,” which is a great phrase. It’s a syndrome I normally associate with Dennis Kucinich, but if the shoe fits …

Robert Reich says the bill is a mountain of paperwork but a molehill of reform. The bill can’t be a complete waste of paper, however, as the crew at Cafe Hayek is screaming bloody murder about it. And the usual suspects at Reason’s Hit Run, The Corner and Cato complain that the bill misses the root cause of the financial meltdown, which is poor people; or, in the words of Cato’s Mark Calabria, the “never-ending efforts to expand homeownership.” Yes, damn those who allowed themselves to be snookered by the sharks who were making easy money re-selling bad loans.

Kevin Drum gives us the good news and the bad news:

Here’s the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here’s the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick.

Yeah, pretty much. Obama detractors on the Left don’t seem to notice that his initiatives, flawed as they are, are more progressive than anything seriously attempted by either the Carter or Clinton administrations. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vent frustration and holler about centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation, of course.

However, it does mean that we progressives are in a precarious position, because the popular support for what we’d like to do is soft. I think it’s soft because people don’t understand it, but it’s still soft. And it’s been so long since any genuinely progressive new legislation has been enacted, no one below the age of 50 has memory of it. Which is why integrity narcissism is an indulgence none of us can afford right now.

Sorta kinda related — today’s Paul Krugman column.

13 thoughts on “Integrity Narcissism

  1. I may be wrong but the way I understood it, the 19 billion bank tax was agreed upon by everyone but Brown, so Feingold’s “integrity” paid the banksters another 19 billion, good job Russ! I’d wager old Russ wouldn’t vote for cloture regarding his “McCain, Feingold” campaign finance law if it came to floor today, unless of course Obama opposed it.

  2. “Integrity Narcissism” is a nice term. But it’s just way too complex for the average person.
    I have something simpler (which is its plus,) but a bit more subtle (which is its minus):
    Democrats suffer from “Prisoner of Principle Syndrome.” This is where you stick to your ideals and what you think is right, almost no matter what the consequences for your actions are. Feingold and Kucinich are examples of this.
    Republicans suffer from “Prisoner of Prinipal Syndrome.” Where they are prisoners of the infuential, the consequential, the powerful and the important, and will stick to what you’re told absulutely, no matter what the consequesnces of your actions will be. Amost ALL current Republicans fit this (I’m hard pressed to think of who doesn’t anymore). Sadly, recently so do too many Democrats. Especially those we consider to be in the ranks of the Coproratists.
    Prisoner of Principle/Principal? Who would you rather have on your side?
    This is the best I can think of. Maybe some of you have a better, simpler

  3. Feingold’s opposition to the bill was pretty bizarre to me. I understand that he was trying to push the bill to the left and add provisions that would, in effect, break up the Big Six banks and the financial oligarchy permanently. However, either he greatly overestimated his (and allied) ability to do so, or his goal was something else entirely.

    The senator from Wisconsin is in an election year, and I suspect that has something to do with his actions and statements on the issue. It’s still strange to me, though, because basically all of his challengers oppose him from the right and to my knowledge none of them support any meaningful financial reform. He doesn’t need to go so far out of his way to differentiate himself from them when they’re already deep in the wilderness.

  4. Two thoughts. Feingold is known for this. He voted to impeach Clinton for heavens sake. Sometimes I wonder what planet he is on. Obviously he could have retained his principles by voting for cloture and then voting against the bill. The result would have been better and there was absolutely no way he could move the bill to the left.

    Second thought is that while we can not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, the real problem with the watered down, compromise legislation that is getting passed is that it might not improve things at all and may actually make them worse. If that is the case then it does set back the progressive agenda because it gives the right a rallying cry against any progressive ideas.

  5. terry,
    Yes, I agree.
    Liberals and progressives stand for certain things. I don’t think I need to list them for the readers here. For trolls, imagine all the worst things that you can, but with a really good ending for EVERYONE!
    Unfortunately, not too many of our Democratic Presidents did a whole lot for issues.
    -FDR certainly stood for our priciples., and acted on them.
    -Truman, uhm, not so much – but, he did OK to integrate the military.
    -Ike, the Supreme Court nominations that led to “Brown v. Bd. of Education.” Socialist transportation issues expanding highways and RR’s.
    -JFK – I hate to say this, but, kind of like Obama – strong on the rhetoric. He did do the moon thing. The “Bay of Pigs thing,” on the negative side. Vietnam and Civil Rights were unfinished…
    -LBJ – Great on Civil Rights, Medicare, Medicaid. Started to move on womens issues. He taught Reagan and Dumbaya Bush’s about illegal wars and how to start them.
    -Nixon – Unbelieveably, the last “Liberal” President. OSHA, Clean Air & Water, were only a few things that passed, if not with his approval, at least on his watch.
    -Carter – Civil Rights (with the DeBakey decision, that started ‘Affirmative Action”), Government Accountability, and Environmental Issues.
    -Ford, hard pressed for anything positive, or negative.
    -Reagan – don’t ask.
    -Bush I – Ditto.
    Clinton – the greatest and most progressive Republican President we’ve had since Ike.
    -“Little Boot’s” Bush – Where do I start? At the same place where I end. The worst President in history on any and every issue of consequence to anyone but his supporters, who had to either lie, or make up out of whole cloth, any positives, which no sentient being on the planet could possibly discern, but those self-same supporters – “The Have’s, and the Have More’s!”
    -Obama – I’m a diehard liberal. But, I’ve got to say, to paraphrase “The Rolling Stones, ‘If you can’t get what you want, sometimes, you get what you need.” That may be his legacy. He has gotten more accomplished with a recalictrant, if not hostile Congress, than any President at this point in his adminstraion, in the course of my life.
    Liberal – no. Effective – YES! Moving the meter to the left? Oh, so, slowly. Now, how to take advantage of that and continue after November, and after 2012?
    I’d be more thorough and add more detail, but, it’s time for a glass of wine and dinner. ‘Bon Appetit!”

  6. Clinton – the greatest and most progressive Republican President we’ve had since Ike.

    Gulag…don’t you mean it’s time for “another” glass of wine?

  7. When it comes to Feingold I keep seeing him standing all alone on the Senate floor pleading for someone to please stand with him to censure Bush(at a minimum) for violating the Constitution with his blatantly illegal wiretaps. Seems Feingold could find no takers among his fellow Democrats who thought enough of the Constitution, or the rule of law to stand with him.. What might be called Feingold’s integrity narcissism would seem narcissistic if integrity was a common trait held by the rest of his fellow Democrats.

  8. Swami,
    Yeah, I might have been a bit over the top on that one…
    ‘In vino veritas?’ Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

  9. Swami – I also reflect back to that moment which became, for me, a watershed, a pivotal event out of which I realized that I had little or no real representation in Congress. I understand that not only did no Democrat stand with him he was actually shunned, treated like a pariah on and off the Senate floor.

    I have read that Washington is a town that pays more attention to loyalty and discretion than to vision or success. I believe it.

  10. “FDR certainly stood for our priciples., and acted on them.”

    This is a joke, right? Or does Executive Order 9066 fit some Opposite World notion of civil liberties?

  11. True, the Japanese internment in concentration camps pretty much ruined FDR’s record on civil liberties.

    Which was later trumped by Truman’s decision to use the first nuclear weapons on a largely-defeated population.

    To attempt some context, the entire country had been whipped into a fever pitch by the war. Would presidents who had made different decisions been free from criticism today?

    It’s very difficult to prove negatives. Comparatively, it is very easy to show what harm resulted from forward action.

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