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The Good News Implied in Feingold's Decision Not to Run

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Earlier this year, when courage and clarity seemed dangerously rare among our politicians, many of us were heartened when Senator Russ Feingold stood up for the rule of law, proposing a motion to censure President Bush for his flagrant violation of both statutory law and the Constitution. Feingold quickly became a champion for many who hungered for someone in high places to speak the truth about the reckless criminality of this regime. We began to hear talk of a possible Feingold run for the presidency in 2008. And the idea had appeal to many, including me. Recently, of course, Senator Feingold has taken himself explicitly out of the running. The reason he gave was that he intended to focus on his work as a Senator. In such matters, it's never entirely clear what is going on. How often have we heard that someone, stepping down from high office or choosing not to run, has based his decision on some overwhelming desire to "spend more time with my family," when other less flattering reasons are visible? So it is possible, for example, that Senator Feingold made the (not altogether unreasonable) assessment that he could not win, and thus excluded himself from the presidential race for that reason. But I have a more optimistic hypothesis. I am guessing that Feingold's announcement is a signal that he intends to resume his bold efforts to expose the truth about these Bushites to the American people, and to hold these lawless and incompetent rulers of ours accountable for their misdeeds. The evidence for this proposition is admittedly thin, but consider these points. First, we have good reason to believe that –if that were Feingold's agenda-it would be helpful for him to take himself out of the presidential running. Recently, for example, Glenn Greenwald has written about how the mainstream media belittled Feingold's censure proposal, asserting that it was "selfishly designed to advance his own political interests (at the expense of his party) by shoring up the "liberal base" for his 2008 presidential run." Greenwald's point was about the moral bankruptcy of the media pundits. Because of their cynical worldview, Greenwald wrote,
"when Feingold stood up and advocated censure -- based on the truly radical and crazy, far leftist premise that when the President is caught red-handed breaking the law, the Congress should actually do something about that -- the soul-less, oh-so-sophisticated Beltway geniuses could not even contemplate the possibility that he was doing that because he believed what he was saying."
Of course, there's no guarantee that these same media cynics will take a principled action from an avowed non-candidate any more seriously –or will help the American people understand the enormously important moral drama that America needs to enact to purge itself of the evils of these Bushites-but that non-candidacy may well help. A second small piece of evidence for my optimistic interpretation of Feingold's announcement concerns its timing. Why would Feingold spring forward so quickly after the election to notify America of his decision not to seek the presidency? It's not as though the country were waiting on pins and needles for word on the subject. One might imagine it to be no coincidence that his announcement came so quickly in the aftermath of the elections. And what had the elections changed that might bear upon Feingold's plans? The election had placed the Senate in the hands of the Democrats. It had made it possible for the judiciary committee, on which Feingold serves, to fulfill its responsibilities to oversee the executive branch's compliance –or non-compliancy-with the law. It had put Feingold on a team that now has the power to investigate this president's and vice president's wanton violation of their oath of office. Senator Feingold has seemed consistently a thoughtful and careful –if also courageous-man, not one to go off half-cocked on the basis of some impulse. So one might assume that Feingold had thought through his choices carefully, well before the election. And I am guessing that his decision was this: "If the Democrats gain control of the Senate, I will quickly remove myself from the race in order to be all the more credible, all the more empowered, for the work I intend to undertake when the new Congress convenes." This was a decision, in other words, that was focused less on what he was not going to do in 2008 than on what he IS going to do in 2007. If I am right in my surmise, the evidence should be evident in the early months of the new year. We should see Feingold playing a major role –standing up as one of the point men, leading the charge-in the effort to confront the crimes of this dark and dangerous presidency.
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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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