What Senators Want

Dean Barnett
|
Posted: Feb 03, 2007 12:00 AM
What Senators Want

You have to give Russ Feingold credit - he’s a man of his convictions. It’s true that those convictions are misguided and borderline insane, but at least he has the courage to follow them.

In his latest outing as the Democrats’ Lone Ranger, Feingold has audaciously proposed legislation that will use Congress’ power of the purse to compel an immediate redeployment from Iraq. It’s an idea so radical, it actually makes Ted Kennedy fidget. Given that the physical act of fidgeting likely taxes Ted Kennedy’s aerobic capacity, you can be pretty sure that Feingold’s proposed legislation is way outside the political mainstream.

But again, let’s give credit where it’s due. Feingold has proposed a piece of actual legislation, not a mere resolution or a completely pointless non-binding resolution. Feingold is also doing all that he can to build support for his legislative effort, taking to the blogs and the airways like a Senator possessed. By putting himself out there in such a way, Feingold is signaling a willingness to be accountable for his legislation’s results. Given that those results would probably include the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents as Iraq instantly devolved into a state of affairs right out of Conrad, Feingold’s willingness to accept accountability is no small thing.

It’s too bad he lacks a worthy foil on the other side of the aisle. Wouldn’t it be nice if a Republican, any Republican, offered a piece of legislation that said in essence that we resolve to bear any burden necessary to prevail in Iraq? At this point, I’d even settle for a non-binding resolution to that effect.

THERE’S AN OLD SAW that all 100 Senators want to be President. The current Senate is disabusing us of that long-held notion. Most of today’s Senators don’t want to be president. They don’t want to lead. They just want to look like they’re president.

That’s what all these non-binding resolutions have really been about. Chuck Hagel boldly preened before the cameras of C-SPAN about the urgent need for all Senators to commit themselves to a non-binding resolution. For this shoddy piece of political showmanship, former Reagan speech-writer Peggy Noonan saluted Hagel’s "courage" on the Wall Street Journal’s website. We have surely passed through some sort of looking glass when lecturing one’s colleagues about a non-binding piece of legislative amusement gets perceived as courage.

All the resolutions in some regards are the same, be they of the relatively benign variety like the McCain resolution or the truly pernicious Warner resolution. All of them are merely vehicles that will enable their supporting Senators to look like leaders. Or at last that’s what they hope.

The solons putting forth the resolutions knowing that the resolutions won’t do a blessed thing besides give their supporting Senators a talking point when they seek reelection. Their fondest wish is that by championing the resolutions, they can look like the guy in the driver’s seat on a ladder truck. When you look quickly at a ladder truck, it looks like the guy in the driver’s seat is in control, but it’s actually the guy in the rear who is doing the real steering. That’s the nature of the con so many Senators are trying to pull.

NATURALLY, IT WOULD BE HILARY CLINTON who would elevate this generally bi-partisan Senatorial malfeasance to new and unprecedented levels. On the campaign trail this week, the former first lady demanded that the President settle the Iraq situation before he leaves office rather than leave it to his successor. She said it would be "the height of irresponsibility" to do otherwise. Of course, Senator Clinton hopes to be President Bush’s successor so her bizarre sentiment expresses some selfish concerns.

It’s easy to find historic parallels where presidents weren’t able to leave a perfect world to their successors. Truman left the Korean War to Eisenhower; Ike never complained. LBJ left Vietnam to Nixon; Nixon also didn’t complain. Even Senator Clinton’s husband, after purportedly being obsessed with the pursuit of Osama bin Laden for several years, was unable to deliver his successor a world devoid of its greatest terrorist threat. Given the way the hunt for bin Laden allegedly consumed President Clinton, we can assume he knew the stakes. One wonders whether his wife would label his bequeathing the problem to his successor "the height of irresponsibility."

But history be damned. I say Senator Clinton should double down on her demands of the Bush administration. As one of his possible successors, she should demand that he also bring peace to the troubled Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And then he should settle things with North Korea (like her husband did). In his spare time, he should figure out the mysteries of cold fusion so his successor won’t be plagued by energy costs or concerns.

But let us not be too hard on the former First Lady. She’s a Senator now, and just doing what 21st century Senators do. Senator Clinton doesn’t want to truly lead anymore than she wants to have an in-law suite for Monica Lewinsky in Chappaqua.

Most modern day Senators for sure want office. But they don’t want to lead.