Any year that begins with Bill Frist and Tom DeLay running the Capitol and ends with Frist out of politics and DeLay headed for trial gets high marks from this quarter. Throw in the polls that show the American people are now firmly in the anti-war camp, the fact that even Republicans are starting to suggest that the best word to describe the president’s policies may be “criminal, the prospect that those policies will soon be under the scrutiny of House and Senate committee chairs who have actually familiarized themselves with the term “checks and balances” and 2006 ends on the best note of any year since George W. Bush and Dick Cheney launched their co-presidency.
The voters deserve a lot of credit for the taming of the shrews. But elections do not occur in vacuums. Good election results do not come about by luck or chance. They follow upon bold gestures and smart strategies by elected officials who choose to lead rather than follow, organizations that take chances and individual citizens who understand why Jefferson said that all power should rest with the people.
Here are this one columnist’s picks for the Most Valuable Progressives of 2006:
* MVP – U.S. SENATE
Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold cinched the title in March when he proposed that Senate censure President Bush for repeatedly authorizing domestic wiretaps on American citizens without first obtaining a legally required court order. “This conduct is right in the strike zone of the concept of high crimes and misdemeanors,” explained Feingold on ABC-TV’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.” Republicans cried foul. Democrats ran for cover – with the commendable exceptions of Iowa’s Tom Harkin and California’s Barbara Boxer. But Feingold was right, as he was right when he called for setting a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, built a bipartisan coalition to block renewal of the worst sections of the Patriot Act, traveled to Africa to focus attention on the need to address poverty and disease as part of a broader strategy to combat the appeal of Islamic fundamentalists, sponsored legislation urging state and local governments to establish a system to assure that every eligible voter who wants to vote is able to cast a ballot, and when he came out unapologetically for gay marriage. He was even right when he decided that, rather than mount an uphill bid for the 20087 Democratic presidential nod against better-known and better-financed contenders, he would instead focus on turning the key Foreign Relations and Judiciary subcommittees he will chair on the immediate task of challenging the Bush-Cheney administration’s policies.
It is a measure of how far Feingold stands ahead of the rest of his own party that some of his stiffest competition for the MVP title came from Republicans: in particular, Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, who bluntly compared the Iraq imbroglio to the Vietnam War in which he served and who recognized long before the Iraq Study Group completed its report that talks with Syria and Iran and a renewed focus on resolving disputes between Israel and Palestine were essential steps on the path to peace in the Middle East. Credit, as well, is due Oregon’s Gordon Smith for describing the president’s Iraq policies as “deeply immoral” and potentially “criminal,” and to outgoing Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee for finishing his Senate tenure by blocking efforts to make permanent the president’s recess appointment of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.