Peter Beinart is Making Sense on Censure
by Matt Stoller, Sun Apr 02, 2006 at 07:29:23 PM EDT
Peter Beinart writes a good analysis of the situation. Yes, I did just write that.
So Democrats should only eschew censure if, by so doing, they can make censure and impeachment what they historically have been: constitutional weapons wielded in only the rarest, gravest of circumstances. And that depends on the GOP. Prominent Republicans don't talk much about Clinton's impeachment today; it doesn't quite square with their more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger fretting about Bush hatred. But I don't know of a single major Republican politician or conservative pundit who has admitted the obvious: that impeaching Clinton was a farce and a disgrace, the likes of which we should pray never to see again. The Republican strategy on Feingold's censure effort is to keep calling it absurd without engaging it on the merits. But, on the merits, Feingold's case is much stronger. As former Reagan-era Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein has put it, Bush's actions are "more dangerous than Clinton's lying under oath, because it [Bush's claim of nearly unlimited executive authority] jeopardizes our democratic dispensation and civil liberties for the ages." If Republicans want to keep suggesting that censure (let alone impeachment) is a singularly extreme act to be taken only when our constitutional system is in peril, then they need to apologize for what happened in 1999. I'm not holding my breath.
But what about question number two: Is censure good for the Democrats? The conventional wisdom is that, by making Democrats look radical, Feingold has shot his party in the foot, if not the head. But some radicalism is politically useful, particularly in the long run. Liberal bloggers often make this point, and they're right: Occasionally you need to stake a position beyond what is mainstream in Washington--and take some hits--in the hope that you eventually redefine what "mainstream" is. Social Security privatization has always been a political loser for the GOP, and yet, by sticking with it for decades, they have made it politically respectable and shifted the terms of debate. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Massachusetts Supreme Court created a huge backlash when they pushed gay marriage, but, by putting it on the political agenda, they made civil unions--once a radical position itself--the centrist alternative.
So there's a value for Democrats in having Russ Feingold inject censure into the political debate. (In fact, a Newsweek poll found that 42 percent of Americans support the idea--more than backed the president's Social Security plan.) With censure as the extreme position, a full, tough investigation of the surveillance program now looks sober and reasonable, whereas, not long ago, that too might have seemed beyond the pale.
The challenge for Democrats, as The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne has pointed out, is to let some people push the bounds of acceptable opinion while others use the specter of radicalism to make modest, incremental progress. The press fetishizes party unity, but, in a way, what the Democrats need is creative disunity: different kinds of politicians who pursue different tactics but agree on a broader goal. Washington Democrats may not like Russ Feingold very much these days, but they--and the country--need him all the same.
This is exactly right. Conservatives and Republicans have mastered the art of political theater. Watch the charade of Republicans talking about how the last five years of massive spending growth under conservative Republican governance isn't conservative or Republican in nature.
Censure has put investigations on the map. It has moved Bush's legitimacy squarely into the realm of political discourse, and as such, is an important step forward. If for no other reason, Democrats should be grateful to Feingold even as they sadly discuss the premature nature of his gesture. After all, the Senate hasn't yet had investigated the President's actions. When they do, we will know what the appropriate remedy is.