Friday, September 30, 2005

Russ and Roberts

Hey folks, sorry I wasn't able to post more recently. I've either been busy with law school work or too tired to do anything. But now that I finally have enough free time and energy to do something, I'm back and blogging! You know, I hear some of my fellow law students spend their free time going to bars or parties or something, but not me. I devote all my free time to you, the Feingold fans!

You should be honored, of course.

Okay, seriously now, on to the news.

Last Minute Notice: Senator Feingold is on C-SPAN right now (Friday at 6:30 central) giving a speech at the Rockingham County Democratic Party's Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner.

Oh, to make that more interesting, that would be Rockingham County NEW HAMPSHIRE.

Hopefully, this will be replayed later and posted on C-SPAN's website. I'll try to keep you informed on that.

Now on to the big story...

Russ and Roberts: Yesterday, John Roberts was sworn in as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States. He passed the Senate confirmation vote 78-22. He would have become Chief Justice with or without Russ Feingold's support. It happened to be with Senator Feingold's support.

Am I surprised by this? Somewhat, given the Senator's strong questioning of Roberts in the Judiciary Committee hearings.

Am I disappointed? No. After it became clear that Roberts was going to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist, rather then Sandra Day O'Connor, I didn't consider the Roberts confirmation to be that important of a battle. Yes, he is a conservative partisan Republican. So was his predecessor. I don't think Roberts is incompetent, corrupt, or holds legal views that are ridiculously out of the mainstream. I'm not sure how I would have voted if I was a senator, but I don't think there was a really good reason to keep Roberts off the bench. Senator Feingold's statement before the judiciary committee's vote is here. I think it's worth reading.

Does this vote change my opinion of Senator Feingold as a Senator or a possible presidential candidate? Not by one iota.

Somehow, the rest of the liberal blogosphere doesn't quite see it this way. Since the vote in the judiciary committee, I've seen quite a few people refer to Senator Feingold as "yet another spineless Dem kowtowing to the Bush Administration" and have heard that he has committed political suicide as far as his presidential hopes go. More kindly, and quite paradoxically, I've seen the Senator's vote called a political move to help him appeal to moderate voters in the 2008 primaries. (I'm sure many moderate voters are thinking about the 2008 primaries now, and that the Roberts vote is the most important issue to them. And your sarcasm detectors should be going off the charts there.)

So has Senator Feingold become another spineless Dem? Or is he off pandering to the moderates, now that he assume he has his liberal base locked up (in the elections that don't begin for about two and a half years and which he might not even run in)?

No, I'm afraid the there is a simpler explanation. Russ Feingold is just being Russ Feingold.

Maybe that needs some explanation, especially to people who have just recently become interested in Senator Feingold. While it is true that Senator Feingold is, perhaps, the most progressive member of the Senate, he's not just a kneejerk partisan Democrat. He doesn't always do what the base of the party would like him to. He voted to confirm John Ashcroft and Condi Rice, too. And he doesn't always do what the leaders of the party would like him to do. He was one of three Senate Democrats to speak out against Bill Clinton's use of military force in Kosovo. He was also the only Senate Democrat to vote against dismissing the impeachment charges against Clinton without hearing the evidence (after the trial, he found Clinton not guilty.)

It would be fair to say Senator Feingold is a maverick, but he isn't a maverick just for the sake of being one. He is a maverick because he always stays true to his own principles regardless of popular opinion or the party line. While I'm sure he could describe his own principles better than I, I think a very short summary of it would be that he really believes in the Constitution of the United States and the way our system of government is supposed to work. For him, that sometimes means voting for qualified presidential nominees he doesn't agree with at all, rather then turning their confirmation hearings into yet another partisan battle. It also means wanting to hear the evidence in a trial to impeach the President of the United States, even though they're from the same party. Personally, I think this whole "principles before partisanship" thing is a big reason why Senator Feingold would make a great president. I think real political leadership means occasionally doing things that are not popular among members of your own party, or even the population as a whole, because they are in the best interest of the country. Others seem to think that a great political leader is someone who always agrees with them 100% of the time. Those people would be better off not supporting Senator Feingold. And instead casting a write-in for themselves.

That said, I can understand why some of his supporters might be disappointed in Senator Feingold for this vote. All I can say to them is that it is just one vote I don't think it is close to being enough to cancel out all the countless ways in which Senator Feingold has been a leader of the progressive cause. He remains the only Senator to advocate a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq and the only Senator to cast a vote against the PATRIOT Act. He has been fighting against corporate dominated free trade agreements for his entire senate career. And he has one of the best records out there on the environment, health care, women's rights and other progressive causes.

I can understand the visceral desire of some in the liberal blogosphere to treat every vote like it is the most important vote-EVER! And to believe that all Dems who vote the other way are TRAITORS! But, that's simply not true. While I wholeheartedly agree that the Democrats should stand united and fight all the important battles against the Bush Administration, I'm just not sure this was one. Remember that both of Clinton's Supreme Court nominees were confirmed with less than 10 votes against them. I don't think that means that the Republicans were an ineffective opposition.

Finally, remember that in these partisan struggles what goes around comes around. As Senator Feingold noted:

History has shown that control of the White House, and with it the power to shape the courts, never stays for too long with one party. When my party retakes the White House, there may very well be a Democratic John Roberts nominated to the Court, a man or woman with outstanding qualifications, highly respected by virtually everyone in the legal community, and perhaps with a paper trail of political experience or service on the progressive side of the ideological spectrum. When that day comes, and it will, that will be the test for this Committee and the Senate. And, in the end, it is one of the central reasons I will vote to confirm Judge John Roberts to be perhaps the last Chief Justice of the United States in my lifetime.

That's all I have for this week, I'll update when I have the time.



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