Russ stepped into the belly of the beast Sunday and joined Chris Wallace to discuss his censure proposal.
"The Republican strategy on Feingold's censure effort is to keep calling it absurd without engaging it on the merits. But, on the merits, Feingold's case is much stronger. As former Reagan-era Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein has put it, Bush's actions are "more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath, because it [Bush's claim of nearly unlimited executive authority] jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages." If Republicans want to keep suggesting that censure (let alone impeachment) is a singularly extreme act to be taken only when our constitutional system is in peril, then they need to apologize for what happened in 1999. I'm not holding my breath.
So there's a value for Democrats in having Russ Feingold inject censure into the political debate. (In fact, a Newsweek poll found that 42 percent of Americans support the idea--more than backed the president's Social Security plan.) With censure as the extreme position, a full, tough investigation of the surveillance program now looks sober and reasonable, whereas, not long ago, that too might have seemed beyond the pale.
The challenge for Democrats, as The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne has pointed out, is to let some people push the bounds of acceptable opinion while others use the specter of radicalism to make modest, incremental progress. The press fetishizes party unity, but, in a way, what the Democrats need is creative disunity: different kinds of politicians who pursue different tactics but agree on a broader goal. Washington Democrats may not like Russ Feingold very much these days, but they--and the country--need him all the same."