I grew up in Wisconsin and we have an unfortunate tradition of sending demagogues to the U.S. Senate. The most infamous example is the now-reviled Joseph McCarthy, who emerged from my hometown and blustered his way to fame and then ignominy through his crusade against Communists. A combination of overreach and the withering exposure afforded his campaign through the scrutiny of journalists like Edward R. Murrow brought this alcoholic small-town lawyer low.
Next Wisconsin sent a different type of demagogue, William Proxmire, to the Senate. Proxmire was an inveterate publicity hound who monthly regaled his pet journalists with the "Golden Fleece Awards," where he publicly "shamed" his colleagues by shining a light on their pet projects. While Proxmire was largely correct about many of the boondoggles he spotlighted, he never did anything about actually taking these items out of the budgets. Things would pass anyway and he simply earned a reputation as a gadfly. Meanwhile, any initiatives he might offer were simply set aside by the Senate leadership, making him the least effective senator in Washington throughout his career.
Comes now Russ Feingold, emerging from the back bench with a resolution to censure President Bush for authorizing the NSA eavesdropping on conversations involving American citizens suspected of contact with Al Qaeda. Link is below:
Feingold is convinced that Bush broke the law. It's not at all clear that he did, of course. Existing case law is at best inconclusive and the 1978 FISA law has not faced constitutional scrutiny. I personally think it's time to challenge FISA and the mechanism behind it. The money graf is this:
"Congress has to reassert our system of government, and the cleanest and the most efficient way to do that is to censure the president," Feingold said. "And, hopefully, he will acknowledge that he did something wrong."
While Congress has always wanted to conduct foreign policy, authority to do so has always resided with the executive branch. And for good reason - if Congress controls foreign policy, it puts decisionmaking into the hands of 535 individuals with competing agendas. For a country to have an effective foreign policy and face it offers the world, it needs to speak with one voice. If Feingold thinks current policy is wrong, his task should be to get to the hustings and offer his vision to the voting public. Congress can hardly "reassert" something that it does not have authority to do. I can assert that I am the King of Spain, but that doesn't mean I'll be able to get free tapas in Madrid any time soon.
Ultimately, Feingold's compadres understand that his proposal is silly, which is why minority leader Harry Reid was backpedaling from the proposal yesterday. You have to wonder why my fellow cheeseheads continue to send morons to the World's Greatest Deliberative Body.