Saturday, November 27, 2010


The last two years in the Senate have seen some historic legislation, but it has also seen the loss of three great Senators, Ted Kennedy, Robert Byrd, and now the last true champion of civil liberties, Russ Feingold.  Slate's Dahlia Lithwick and Dave Weigel ask who will fill the Wisconsin Senator's shoes, and their answers are few and and very far between.

Civil rights and civil liberties activists now need a senator willing to go to the mat on these issues, knowing that he'll probably lose, yet hoping that he can shave off the worst bits of legislation with savvy and stubbornness. Feingold chaired the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and was next in line to take over the Foreign Relations Committee. Just as important, he was able to command the attention of the media. (Watch him explain the implications of allowing the government to listen to your overseas phone calls.) It's not clear to the civil liberties crowd who can keep this up in the Senate.

Their candidates, Minnesota's Al Franken and Rhode Island's Sheldon Whitehouse, could follow in Feingold's footsteps, but as far as filling his shoes, that will be an entirely different story.  Feingold was the only Senator who voted against the Patriot Act, and both Franken and Whitehouse voted to extend the measure when it came up again for a vote.

I personally think Feingold's ironic loss, his own legislation limiting campaign finance rules was struck down by the Roberts Court, and his Tea Party corporate opponent Ron Johnson unloaded enough of an advertising tsunami with his now unlimited money to bury Feingold, is the most depressing sign of 2010.  Feingold was sacrificed on the altar of his own accomplishments.

There's not his like in the Senate.  Not unless you think Rand Paul is really champion of civil liberties.

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