I'm not sure why my most noticeable sentiment on election night was disappointment that Russ Feingold will not be returning to the U.S. Senate after three terms.
Although we expected him to lose, we still wrote of our hope that the progressive/libertarian Frankenstein from Wisconsin would make an 11th-hour comeback. It didn't happen.
This short piece on Feingold by Reason's Hit and Run blog is highly recommended.
I consider myself somewhere between a conservative and libertarian. Aside from abortion, I don't care about social issues. I find myself agreeing with the conclusion of Andrew Sullivan and others that marijuana should be legalized. But I opposed the health-care bill and the wasteful stimulus. I agree with virtually all conservatives that the recent Congresses have spent wastefully and taken our country dangerously close to the precipice of fiscal calamity. Defense should be cut, and entitlements need drastic, deep reform. I'd love to abolish the Department of Education, and I think the United Nations is a joke.
And most critically, like Feingold, I am abhorred by the executive power abuses and civil liberties violations of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Neither anyone in my party, nor many in Feingold's, has had the guts to stand up to these abuses, for fear of voter backlash, or being branded "weak on terrorism," or both.
If you're a civil libertarian, Feingold was your man, one of your precious few allies in Congress. The establishment of both parties doesn't care about these issues, and without Feingold rattling his familiar sabre on the Senate floor, it's likely the establishment will care even less now that he's on his way out.
Despite ridicule from both sides, Feingold has been the most remarkably principled legislator I've ever seen. He opposed the PATRIOT Act in 2001; then he was the lone vote against the war in Iraq in 2003; then he slammed the Bush administration over warrantless wiretaps, torture and the denial of due process rights to Americans like Jose Padilla. And when he believed Obama was continuing the Bush-era practice of secreting intelligence reports from Congress, Feingold went after him, too.
Evidence of Feingold's civil libertarian bent can be found as far back as 1996, when he was one of just 16 senators to vote against the Communications Decency Act, which would have criminalized "indecent" material on the internet -- a bill which the Supreme Court eventually struck down as unconstitutional.
He campaigned as a deficit hawk in 1992 and is an avowed opponent of earmarks. While an unabashed supporter of a single-payor healthcare system -- something I'm not even sure President Obama would go for -- he was nearly impossible to pin down on any given issue -- partnering with John McCain on campaign finance reform and Chris Dodd to block immunity for telecom companies -- and was once voted the least predictable vote in Congress.
He was a liberal, and I disagreed with him at least 70% of the time. But we shared a common passion -- the rule of law, and the rights of normal Americans to go about their lives without unconstitutional interference from an imperial executive. For this, had I lived in Wisconsin, I would have gladly worked hard for Feingold's campaign. When a cause is so passionately pursued, party affiliation doesn't matter.
I'll miss him greatly.
I'll close with two quotes.
First, Feingold's impassioned remarks on the PATRIOT Act, made on the Senate floor just six weeks after 9/11:
"Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. ... But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die."
Finally, H.L. Mencken's description of the great Senator Robert LaFollette fits Feingold's political career like a glove:
"There is no ring in his nose. Nobody owns him. Nobody bosses him. Nobody even advises him. Right or wrong, he has stood on his own bottom, firmly and resolutely, since the day he was first heard of in politics, battling for his ideas in good weather and bad, facing great odds gladly, going against his followers as well as with his followers, taking his own line always and sticking to it with superb courage and resolution.
Suppose all Americans were like [him]? What a country it would be! No more depressing goose-stepping. No more gorillas in hysterical herds. No more trimming and trembling. Does it matter what his ideas are? Personally, I am against four-fifths of them, but what are the odds?...You may fancy them or you may dislike them, but you can’t get away from the fact that they are whooped by a man who, as politicians go among us, is almost miraculously frank, courageous, honest and first-rate."