Feb 4, 2010

Russ Feingold's Corner of Madness

Update: Please note response of the office of Sen. Feingold in the comments section.

George Wagner's MJS column last month reporting Sen. Russ Feingold defended the filibuster at a listening session in Milwaukee reveals a problem of Feingold's that progressives know about but rarely speak: What Bertrand Russell would describe as Feingold's "corner of madness."

That would be Feingold's tendency to take utterly insupportable positions in the name of polishing his brand as a political maverick. Certainly, it's not Feingold's intellect that leads him to the absurd.


- Defending the filibuster in the name of deliberation
- Voting for the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts because Roberts assured the Judiciary Committee that he was committed to the jurisprudence of an "umpire" and not that a rightwing activist, Roberts' past ideology apparently notwithstanding in Feingold's mind

Feingold has accomplished much in his tenure in the Senate, but he will never be a great Senator like Robert M. LaFollette because of his tendency to veer into the political idiosyncratic and irrational.

One can go on: Feingold's fighting against retraining funds for out-of-work Janesville autoworkers, raving against stimulus spending in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, supporting the Republican crazies in the impeachment of Bill Clinton and other nonsense.

Liberals [Emily Mills, for example] won't call Feingold out on these preposterous positions because of Feingold's lonely voice of opposition to the worst of the Bush-Cheney nightmare.

But if Feingold's views had prevailed, we would have Senate obstruction, an ultra-activist Roberts Court, out-of-work Americans in need of training, and an insufficiently large fiscal stimulus ... . Ohhh, yeah. This is the type of maverick whom Sarah Palin supports, and Feingold knows this to be true so, really: Knock it off, man.


  1. This post mischaracterizes Senator Feingold’s position on a couple items. First, Senator Feingold has never opposed retraining funds for out-of-work Janesville autoworkers. In fact, just recently, the Department of Labor awarded an additional $2,354,098 to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development to help displaced GM workers in Rock County after Senator Feingold petitioned the Secretary of Labor in 2008 in support of the state’s initial request for assistance. What Senator Feingold disagrees with is the out of control earmark system. Instead of members of Congress divvying up money for their own pet projects, funding should be awarded on the merits. That way, we can protect taxpayer dollars while ensuring that worthy projects – like retraining funds for Rock County – get the funding they deserve.

    You also seem to be confusing the omnibus spending bill with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the stimulus bill. Senator Feingold supported the stimulus bill, which included no earmarks, given the economic emergency our nation was in. In March 2009, he opposed the omnibus spending bill, which included more than 8000 earmarks totaling more than $7 billion.

    Also, you incorrectly suggest that Senator Feingold supported the impeachment of President Clinton. Senator Feingold actually voted against both counts of impeachment against President Clinton. The votes can be viewed here and here.


    Zach Lowe
    Press Secretary
    U.S. Senator Russ Feingold

  2. Mr. Lowe,

    RE Retraining Autoworkers, my narrow statement refers to Sen. Feingold's March 10, 2009 statement reading in part, "By passing the omnibus spending bill today, which included more than 8500 pet projects costing taxpayers $7.7 billion, Congress failed to show the American people that it is committed to spending their money wisely." [See http://feingold.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=309393 .]

    Sen. Feingold's statement was linked to in the sourced piece and I stand by my characterization that earmarked retraining "pet projects" are worthy and do not merit procedural barriers, and that the Senator's hostility to earmarks constitutes an unwise hurdle in this instance mentioned.

    Now, does earmark spending constitute stimulus spending? Yes, I argue it does, especially during an extraordinary period when monetary policy has lost much of power, so one looks to fiscal solutions.

    There is no "confusion" with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but rather an embarrassing set of circumstances for the Sen. that saw worthy retraining funds become part of a political punching bag in the referred-to, specific instance.

    The description of Sen. Feingold’s “raving against stimulus spending” refers to the aforementioned earmarks and 8,500 “pet project,” that constitute both spending and a stimulus to the economy during a dangerous recession; and Sen. Feingold’s general hostility to the “out of control earmark system.”

    Reasonable people disagree on what out-of-control means, but earmarks comprise are less than one percent of the spending bill referred to, and the projects are and were needed.

    As Paul Krugman argues today, “fear-mongering on the deficit may end up doing as much harm as the fear-mongering on weapons of mass destruction.”

    Clinton Impeachment

    As for my characterization that Sen. Feingold supported the Republican crazies in the impeachment of Bill Clinton, I note here his casting the lone Democratic vote against dismissing impeachment proceedings on Jan 24, 1999.

    I refer you to Sidney Blumenthal’s description of Sen. Feingold’s action during the impeachment. [And yes, Sen. Feingold’s votes that you cite are of course accurate, as is his vote against dismissal.] Here’s Blumenthal’s recounting of Feingold’s supporting the Republicans during impeachment [from Blumenthal’s The Clinton Wars (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), p. 576]:

    “That day [Jan 24, 1999], the Senate voted on [Sen. Robert] Byrd’s measure: ‘The Senator from West Virginia, Mr. Byrd, moves that the impeachment proceedings against William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States, be, and the same day are, duly dismissed.’ All fifty-five Republicans, and one Democrat, the idiosyncratic Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, voted against the motion. However impatient they [Senate Republicans] may have been for the trial to end, they could not offend their base. But the vote demonstrated that there would not be sixty-seven votes to remove President Clinton from office.”

    More pressing issues today of course, but I wonder if Sen. Feingold still defends his lone vote against dismissing the ludicrous impeachment proceedings that even Senate Republicans secretly then wanted to end. I believe that I was not alone in being mystified by that vote.