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The Russ Fuss

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; 10:06 AM

One thing is clear about Russ Feingold's move to censure President Bush: Republicans love it and Democrats hate it.

Rarely has a maneuver with as much chance of passing as Barry Bonds hitting 73 homers without steroids sparked such a reaction. Feingold's own party wishes the thing would just go away, while the other party would enjoy talking about it for days on end, which is why Bill Frist tried to call a vote on it, only to be blocked by the Dems.

This, of course, does not reflect the parties' true feelings about the underlying issue. Most Democrats believe Bush probably did break the law in approving warrantless eavesdropping, and most Republicans think the president acted properly. But the proposed censure--a word we haven't heard since some Dems were pushing it as an alternative to impeaching Clinton--is scary to most senators with D after their names, many of whom have been ducking reporters or hemming and hawing as a way to avoid commenting.

Plus, why take the political heat if the resolution is certain to go down in flames? Some folks are into the politics of symbolism, but that group generally doesn't include those who have to run for reelection (unless it's cheap, no-risk symbolism, in which case everyone is happy to indulge).

Does Feingold have 2008 motivations in pushing an official scolding that excites the liberal base? Maybe. But given his long struggle to pass campaign finance reform, he's someone who clearly believes in quixotic missions.

"Republicans, worried that their conservative base lacks motivation to turn out for the fall elections, have found a new rallying cry in the dreams of liberals about censuring or impeaching President Bush," says the New York Times .

"With the Republican base demoralized by continued growth in government spending, undiminished violence in Iraq and intramural disputes over immigration, some conservative leaders had already begun rallying their supporters with speculation about a Democratic rebuke to the president even before Mr. Feingold made his proposal."

With momentum going the Democrats' way, says the Philadelphia Inquirer , "Feingold broke the flow and allowed the Republicans to get off the mat and crank up the old arguments about Democrats playing fast and loose with national security. True, some of the Republicans' retaliatory arguments are not accurate; Bush spokesman Scott McClellan, referring to the censure proposal on Monday, said: 'If Democrats want to argue that we shouldn't be listening to al-Qaeda communications, it's their right' - yet not a single Democrat is on record arguing any such thing."

National Review is rather grateful to Feingold:

"If it could be arranged, surely Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman would hug Wisconsin Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold right now. As the White House struggles to find its political footing, Sen. Feingold has offered it a handy crutch with his proposal to censure President Bush for the National Security Agency surveillance program. The Democrats had just concluded a successful two-week bout of eroding the president's national-security credentials with baseless attacks on the Dubai ports deal."

Um, what about the Republican attacks on the ports deal? Baseless too?

"Now, the party's Left apparently believes it's time to switch back to type and bolster Bush's national-security credentials by demonstrating the Democrats' own lack of seriousness in the War on Terror.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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