Shame on Wisconsin.
You just threw out the only member of the U.S. Senate with any integrity. You just demonstrated that this country is ruled by a small cabal of moneyed interests, with millions of uneducated rednecks as their foot soldiers. Feingold was our last citizen-senator. He was, for his entire time in office, the poorest member of the Senate, yet he consistently returned his pay raises. He consistently voted his ideals, rather than chasing re-election. It caught up with him yesterday, to all of our detriment.
I met Mr. Feingold once. I’ll never forget it. It was September 9, 2006. There were about 20 other people at a small party in Orlando. He gave a quick speech, and asked for questions. I asked, “when did we become a nation of mewling cowards? When did we forget that this country was built upon a desire for liberty, and not for fleeting specious safety?”
I asked it to be provocative. I figured I would get some typical canned response. He smiled with the utmost sincerity and quoted John Cornyn, Republican from Texas, who famously stated: “Your civil liberties aren’t worth much if you’re dead.” Feingold mocked Cornyn and anyone who agreed with him. Feingold expressed pride and disappointment that he was the only dissenting voice when the PATRIOT act was rushed through. Feingold understands what the idea of America is supposed to (used to) be.
I remember, as Feingold did, that on September 11, 2001, a lot of people were afraid of what might happen next. But, I remember that many of us were not afraid of terrorism, we were not afraid of what would happen to us at the hand of a foreign enemy, but we were afraid of our own government. I remember saying to anyone who would listen, “I’m afraid of what this Administration will do now that they have this as a justification for doing anything they want.” Feingold remembered that sentiment as well. Feingold was the only member of the Senate who cared more about standing up for those of us with that fear than his 99 colleagues who all stood up for rubber-stamping Bush’s destruction of the Constitution.
In 2001, I watched as dissent began to be equated with disloyalty. Questioning became equated with sabotage. Standing up for what you believed in became equated with treason.
My fears unfolded as the Patriot Act was rolled out. Did anyone really believe that the government worked tirelessly to “protect us,” drafting the Patriot Act almost overnight? Or was this a wish list of authoritarian desires that had simply been waiting in a file marked “Do Not Release Until We Have a Good Excuse.”
I watched as 99 of Russ Feingold’s colleagues voted to pass this sweeping measure that changed what it meant to be an American. There was almost no debate, and save Feingold, no dissent. I remember the gratitude I felt toward him for being the only one who stood up for us. I realize that some of his colleagues voted for the Patriot Act out of fear, and I know that some voted for it to further ignoble goals. But I also remember his bravery and his willingness to suffer the consequences for standing up for us.
After the public comment portion of the party, I spent a little time talking to Mr. Feingold. We discussed the sweeping statements that “we must win the War on Terror.” And I remember thinking, “what does that mean?” How do you win a war on an emotion? We talked about the phrase “pre- 9/11 thinking” entering the lexicon. We talked about “pre-9/11 thinking” being used to justify measures that suppressed the vote in Minnesota. Remember “pre-9/11 thinking” being used to justify the incremental chipping away at our civil liberties.
We had only one member of the senate who wanted Pre-9/11 thinking. One guy stood up. Just one. He stood up for 1776 thinking.
Feingold lost that vote for the Patriot Act, and our curtain of security theater descended. We changed that day. We lost our war with Al Quaeda – since they changed us, but they get to continue living the way they want to. In fact, their ideals have never been so secure. Meanwhile ours are nothing more than fairy tales in history books. The day that the “battle for America” happened, 99 members of the United States Senate surrendered who we were. They surrendered what we believed in. They surrendered our Constitution and our ideals. Some of them did it for a little gift box of power, others to assuage their fears, and others just to keep their jobs.
Feingold, however, stood on Bunker Hill with his musket in hand, short of ammunition, and he fought.
While I think that Feingold’s brightest moment was when he was the one voice of dissent, he consistently was the conscience of the Senate. After being one of only 23 senators to vote against the Iraq war, he was the first senator to demand a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. He was one of the few to call for Bush to be censured for his illegal wiretapping of American citizens. Despite being an unabashed Liberal, he was often the voice of fiscal responsibility — such as when he was, again, a lone voice against insanity (in 2007) when the Senate killed off a “pay-as-you-go” measure financing tax cuts for the wealthy by using a projected 2012 surplus. I think we all know that projection for a surplus is no longer current.
But back to that day in 2006. I told Feingold that Bush, and Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and Sam Brownback, were all correct — that history will judge us, including Senator Feingold, for how we reacted in 2001. However, I had hope that history would not judge anyone the way that the dipshit-in-chief in 2001 imagined. I told Feingold that history would remember what he did for us. I told him that history would remember that he did not acquiesce to the dismantling of America in 2001, and that I was disappointed that he served with 99 mewling cowards.
Unfortunately, history seems to be some ways off. And today, the people of Wisconsin awaken to the aftermath of their ignorance. They awaken to the joyous bleating of the Tea Party, determined to remove Mr. Feingold from office because of the health care bill — as if it were a great black mark on the republic.
So today, we close the chapter on the last citizen senator. The last guy who stood up for us, without concern for his own avarice or ambition.
Shame on you, Wisconsin.
And if Russ Feingold needs a job, the Randazza Legal Group would hire him in a heartbeat. We seem to have good luck with people who have Wisconsin in their background — no matter what their politics may be.
(My co-blogger’s counterpoint is here)