Go ahead and censure him
Censure the president. A member of the opposing party in the Senate finally introduced a resolution to do just that. Administration critics may not have agreed on much and lacked a coherent agenda, but they were united in their hostility to the president. He seized powers not granted under the Constitution, treated the judiciary with contempt and acted like an elective monarch. But his throne started to crumble.

Finally, one of the soberer senators gave voice to the frustrations of a party that lost twice to the president: "The land is filled with spies and informers; and detraction and denunciation are the order of the day. . . . The . . . symptoms of despotism are upon us; and if Congress (does) not apply an instantaneous and effective remedy, the fatal collapse will soon come on."

Sen. Russ Feingold? No, Sen. Henry Clay, moving to censure President Andrew Jackson in 1833 for running afoul of the Whig Party's understanding of presidential power.

That's the last time Congress censured a president, and Feingold, D-Wis., thinks Congress should do it again. He introduced a resolution to censure President Bush for "his unlawful authorization of wiretaps of Americans."

Feingold is known as Howard Dean without the scream, but Senate Democrats are now treating his proposal like Dean's infamous "yarghhhhhhhhhh." In fact, it's Republicans who want to vote on Feingold's motion. It's easy to see why. Just when Democrats were making headway against Bush, Feingold has offered a resolution that (a) reflects his party's views of the National Security Agency eavesdropping program and (b) highlights its weakness on war-on-terror issues. No wonder Democrats don't want to vote on the resolution.

Feingold thinks the NSA program is unlawful, as do most Democratic lawmakers, and that's where the trouble begins.

Calling it unlawful doesn't make it so. Oh, it might if there were unanimity or near-unanimity on the lawfulness of the program, or if the administration had acted under some novel legal theory. It might if the administration had acted as though it were engaged in unlawful activity.

But there's no such unanimity or near-unanimity; some legal scholars and judges from both parties have affirmed the program's legal underpinning. Here's the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review in 2002: "The Truong court, as did all the other courts . . . held that the President did have inherent authority to conduct warrantless searches to obtain foreign intelligence information. . . . We take for granted that the President does have that authority and, assuming that is so, FISA could not encroach on the President's constitutional power."

The administration has never shied from making the legal, constitutional or practical case for the program. In fact, it consulted with lawmakers from both parties from the program's start. The result after three months of reports, hearings and debate: broad congressional and public support for the warrantless monitoring of suspected terrorists' international calls.

Still, Feingold and the Democrats think the program is unlawful. The Wisconsin senator and potential presidential candidate simply wants to take this belief to its logical conclusion — or penultimate conclusion. If a president engages in unlawful activity, he should not only be censured but also impeached.

That's too much logic for some Democrats, who would rather gripe about Bush's "lawlessness" than do anything about it. Say what you will about Feingold, he has the courage of his party's convictions. Republicans should honor him, and promote political accountability, by giving his resolution a vote.

Then again, maybe those Democrats are wise to "run and hide." Consider what happened to Clay and the Whigs after they let their "King Andrew" animus get the best of them and censured the "tyrannical" Jackson. They lost the 1834 congressional elections and the presidential election two years later. The next Congress expunged Clay's censure resolution. And Jackson — a polarizing political figure and champion of the strong chief executive — went down in history as one of our great presidents.

Posted by: ryuge 2006-03-19