Share I’d Be Happy, Too with your friends.

E-mail

E-mail It

Social Web

March 17, 2006

I’d Be Happy, Too

Posted in: BushCo

Russell D. Feingold

I just don’t understand this. Every time any Democrat opens their mouth they talk about how the netroots community is more an more influential every day on the course of party politics, and they are most certainly looking to turn us into a virtual ATM for the next election cycle.

Yet they are so disconnected from the palpable rage of the base — and yes, we are the base, the people who show up every day, who write about this stuff, send letters, make phone calls, give money, give a shit — that they have no concept of stepping into a leadership position on matters of great concern like the illegal NSA wiretaps and channeling that emotion into positive action.

They are then often startled to find that frustration turning back on them. Is it really such a mystery?

EJ Dionne understands:

Consider the disparity between the response to Feingold’s initiative among Democratic senators and the reaction among Democratic activists.

Senators mostly scampered away from the cameras earlier this week, because they didn’t want to say publicly what many of them said privately. Most were livid that Feingold sprang his censure idea on a Sunday talk show without giving them any notice. Many see Feingold as more concerned with rallying support from the Democratic base for his 2008 presidential candidacy than with helping his party regain control of Congress this fall.

Some Democrats want the party to forget the issue of warrantless wiretapping, because engaging it would let Bush claim that he’s tougher on terrorists than his partisan enemies. Others share Feingold’s frustration with the administration’s stonewalling on the program, but they think they need to know more before they can effectively challenge Bush on the issue. Both groups were furious that Feingold grabbed headlines away from those delicious stories about Republican divisions and defections.

But at the grass roots and Web roots, Feingold has become a hero — again. They already loved him for his courage in opposing the USA Patriot Act and his call for a timetable for troop withdrawals from Iraq. Feingold’s latest move only reinforced his image of being "a Dem with a spine," as the left-liberal Web site BuzzFlash.com put it in a comment representative of the acclaim he won across the activist blogs.

In an interview, Feingold was unrepentant, arguing that before he made his proposal, "the whole issue of the president violating the laws of this country was being swept under the rug." "We were going to sit back as Democrats and say, ‘This is too hot to handle’ — well that’s outrageous." He warned that "the mistakes of 2002 are being repeated," meaning, he said, that Democrats should never again "cower" before Bush on security issues, as so many at the grass roots saw them doing before the 2002 elections.

And it’s a sign of Feingold’s view of some of his Democratic colleagues that he defended his decision not to let them in on his plan. Had they known what he was up to, he said, "they would have planned a strategy to blunt this."

Here’s the problem: Feingold and the activists are right that Democrats can’t just take a pass on the wiretapping issue, because Bush’s legal claims are so suspect — even to many in his own party. The opposition’s job is to raise alarms over potential abuses of presidential power.

But Democrats, unlike Republicans, have yet to develop a healthy relationship between activists willing to test and expand the conventional limits on political debate and the politicians who have to calculate what works in creating an electoral majority.

For two decades, Republicans have used their idealists, their ideologues and their loudmouths to push the boundaries of discussion to the right. In the best of all worlds, Feingold’s strong stand would redefine what’s "moderate" and make clear that those challenging the legality of the wiretapping are neither extreme nor soft on terrorism.

That would demand coordination, trust and, yes, calculation involving both the vote-counting politicians and the guardians of principle among the activists. Republicans have mastered this art. Democrats haven’t.

Turning a minority into a majority requires both passion and discipline. Bringing the two together requires effective leadership. Does anybody out there know how to play this game?

I don’t know how to make it any clearer. You can’t tell people what to care about. They can continue to harp on the Dubai Ports mess all they want, but that moment has passed. It will make a fine talking point but the white-hot emotion fueling the discussion is gone. Russ Feingold saw where the conversation was going and he stepped in to provide leadership in a timely manner, not six weeks from now when they’d caucused the fucker to death and the world had moved on.

So let me speak in a language that even the dullest, the most remedial, most thick-witted Democratic consultant can understand.

According to a new Rassmussen poll:

"Initially, 22% of Democrats had a favorable opinion of him while 16% had an unfavorable opinion. However, knowing he advocates censure, Feingold’s numbers within his own party jumped to 52% favorable and 14% unfavorable."

Every day that goes by and the party leaders do nothing but carp about an investigation that will never happen they are single-handedly delivering the loyalty, dollars and activism of the base over to Russ Feingold.

Are we communicating now?


Return to: I’d Be Happy, Too