Being right isn't enough
The past week has seen a good number of liberal appreciations of Russ Feingold, so I was glad to see Neil Sinhababu point out that his legislative style, while pleasing to liberals, often didn't accomplish much:
He joined the GOP in filibustering financial reform because he thought it should've been tougher on banks. What eventually happened? Well, Democrats needed an additional vote to break the filibuster, so they got Scott Brown to turn against the filibuster in exchange for an $18 billion giveaway to banks, mostly in his state. The net effect of Feingold's filibuster was giving $18 billion to banks. This is the sort of thing that anybody with more tactical sense than a popsicle would recognize and then go along with the bill.
Jonathan Bernstein made similar points before the election. The basic problem seems to be that any individual senator or representative looking out for his or her legacy has a stronger incentive to showboat than to work hard on legislation. If people remember Russ Feingold 50 years from now, it will be either because of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill or because of his attempt to censure President Bush in 2007. One of those took years of negotiations with varying congressional leaders and two presidential administrations to come to fruition. The other took an afternoon. If you're a senator with limited time but a desire for a legacy, which of those options is more attractive?
Dylan Matthews is a student at Harvard and a researcher at The Washington Post.
| November 8, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
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