Sunday, March 13, 2011

Russ Feingold, Modern Day Profile In Courage.

This is a paper I wrote for my American Government class. It represents what is needed throughout Government. Throughout history there has been corruption in politics. There are too few that stand up for what is right and their moral convictions. The book Profiles in Courage by John F Kennedy gives many examples of the courage which is needed in our society, not just in Government. Russ Feingold is the person I chose to go with the story. The assignment was to provide a modern example of Profiles in Courage following the same basic thesis from the book. Which I have done, well according to my professor. Please review this and let me know what you think.

            Profiles in Courage depict acts of bravery from eight Senators lives while achieving to make history in their fight. Each of these men had honor, integrity, and made conscious decisions, most of which were un-popular and went against their parties’ beliefs. These people stood up for what was right and decent. The great stories of the men went above and beyond, in some cases ultimately ruined their political careers. These great American heroes had determination and would not give in to the mere scrutiny, blackmail, bribes, and bad press. Edmond Ross was true to his convictions and stood by his values in a vote that ultimately cost him his Senate seat. Throughout history there have been very few people that will not take a bribe or become a follower. The man that truly influenced the United States in the right direction was Lucius Lamar for his continued efforts between the North and South. American Government today may very well benefit from these types of selfless acts. Other than the great people advocated in these stories there have been additional acts of courage one of which is former Senator Russ Feingold a Democrat of Wisconsin. The underlying problem with American Government is that these acts are few and far between.  

            All of the Senators had something to lose by their actions; however their moral dilemma weighed stronger then popular choice. Edmond G. Ross had the most to lose, a young freshman Senator with a full political career ahead of him. Ross had the potential to make a long career out of the Senate unfortunately one vote changed this mans fate; the vote to impeach the President of the United States. After Abraham Lincoln was assassinated Johnson became President. As unusual as it is Lincoln was a Republican and chose a Democratic Vice President. The Republican Party tried Johnson for impeachment. “The temporary and unstable two-thirds majority which had enabled the Senate Radical Republicans on several occasions to enact legislation over the President’s veto was, they knew, insufficiently reliable for an impeachment conviction.”[1] President Andrew Johnson was despised by the Republican Party. The effort President Johnson produced, to transmit the late President Lincoln’s wishes and reconstruct the south, was opposed in the Republican Party.  The vote Ross would make at the impeachment trial ultimately decided the fate of the President as well as his own. He kept his vote secret, not revealing which way he would vote. When the House of Representatives passed the impeachment on their end and Ross said, “Well, Sprague, the thing is here; and so far as I am concerned, though a Republican and opposed to Mr. Johnson and his policy, he shall have as fair a trial as an accused man ever had on this earth.”[2] Ross ultimately chose his values over the Republican Party. Ross disagreed with President Johnson’s views and ended up voting the other way to not impeach the President based on a conscious decision. This broke the Senators career in Congress and is just one example of the obstacles and challenges men like this face. To accept bribes or not except bribes, tough for any person with morals. This courage was a selfless act that is seldom seen in Politics.
The great Lucious Lamar a Democratic Senator of Mississippi had tremendous spirit as well as bringing men to tears while giving a eulogy for Republican Senator Charles Sumner.   Lamar supported mending ties between the North and the South which was the unpopular opinion of his constituents. The impact of Senator Lamar’s actions demonstrated exceptional progress after the Civil War. In 1877 a new bill was on the table, the free silver bill. Lamar would not support the bill that may have enriched his state, which was in the middle of a depression. Lamar found that free silver, although it would provide much needed help to his people, would be dreadful to the economy and have no long term effect of stability. The citizens turned on Lamar, even friends, “His old friend Jefferson Davis hurt him deeply by condemning Lamar’s disregard of the Legislature’s instructions and an attack upon the foundation of our political system and the long standing practice of the Southern Democratic Party.”[3] The Senator did many great things in his long political career, unlike Senator Ross; these particular acts of courage did not in fact end Senator Lamar’s career, he eventually went on to become a Presidential advisor. Although, these acts of courage are different, they have a similarity, both acts took guts. Senator Lamar shaped the United States by bringing the North and the South together. It is hard to believe there are so few people in power in the United States that would stand up and do what is proper for the people.

Political corruption in the United States is a growing concern, changing the corruption is looking bleak, major Constitutional issues occur in order for one courageous person to stands up for what is right. The few, the proud, the brave is not something that comes along everyday, especially among elected officials. Russ Feingold, former Senator of Wisconsin led with conviction and honor like the Senators before him, mostly noted for his lone voice during the 2001 Patriot act. The Patriot Act which he accuses, then President, George W Bush of going against the Constitution and states that: “The new law goes into a lot of areas that have nothing to do with terrorism and have a lot to do with the government and the FBI having a wish list of things they want to do, whether it be getting into peoples computer use, medical records, or other items not related to terrorism.”[4] Senator Feingold started a revolt against the Constitutionality of this bill and has continued to strongly oppose pieces of the Patriot Act. One provision for which the Senator is strongly opposed to is called ‘National Security Letters’ which authorizes the administration to subpoena anyone they may deem a terrorist and seize business records without obtaining permission from a judge. Since 2001 when the Patriot Act took effect this occurs tens, of thousands of times per year. Senator Feingold started an investigation against the Patriot Act to adjust the flaws in the translation.  The Senator conducted this by questioning the justice committee. Following a few questions, Feingold explains his concerns.
That’s not how this was sold, to the American people; it was sold as stated on DOJ’s website in 2005 as being necessary, quote: “to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists.” I’m going to say it’s quite extraordinary to grant government the statutory authority to secretly break into Americans homes in criminal cases and I think some Americans will be concerned that it’s been used hundreds of times in just a single year of year of non-terrorism cases. [5]

Feingold has not won the Patriot Act struggle, the fight continues today. Senator Feingold is also known for a contrasting point of view when it came to the massive bank bail outs. The Senator fought for the Glass Seagall bill to be removed in order for financial reform to take place. He also founded an amendment seeking a timetable on pulling the troops out of Afghanistan. Senator Feingold turned heads when he worked with Republican Senator John McCain on financial election reform as well as other bills in the Senate. Feingold and McCain although they disagreed on some issues formed a bipartisan reform and McCain should be noted for the courage it took to not side with his party. In November 2010 Senator Feingold lost the election to a Republican Senator Ron Johnson. Senator Feingold may not currently hold a public office; it is highly unlikely his congressional career is over. This Senator acts in valor with a superior conscious to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

            The outstanding acts of courage and bravery shall not be forgotten. Profiles in Courage shows the defining moments of the eight Senators that took a stand for what they believed was the right thing to do. Audacious acts rarely happen when it comes to American Government of any time period. One might say the people that these heroic men stood up to may have felt strongly in their convictions as well. It only takes a single individual to declare that something is immoral; if a single person disagrees then everyone needs to step back and re-think their decision. Political debate is all about compromise, if one no one gives in, the debate continues. The Government would be a power to be reckoned with if there were more Ross’s, Lamar’s, and Feingold’s. There is something to be said for one who will stand up for what they believe in no matter what the consequences. These men were anything but spineless; they are true American Heroes and will not be forgotten, thanks to John F Kennedy.

[1] John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage (New York: HarperCollins),117
[2] Ibid, 122
[3] Ibid,158
[4] Nat Hentoff, Terrorizing the Bill of Rights,, Village Voice  11/13/2001

[5] Russ Feingold, Feingold Questions Department of Justice Officials on PATRIOT Act, Senate Judiciary Hearing,


Feingold, Russ, “Feingold Questions Department of Justice on Patriot Act, Senate Judiciary Hearing,
Feingold, Russ, McCain John, Interviewed by, Jim Lehrer, News Hour, October 7, 1997, PBS,

Feingold, Russ, “Almanac of American Politics”, Wisconsin Junior Senator (2008),

Hentoff, Nate, Terrorizing the Bill of Rights, Village Voice 11/13/2001,

Kennedy, John F., Profiles in Courage, New York, HarperCollins, 2006.

Lamar, Lucious, Ross Edmonds, “Part 3- The Time and the Place”, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum,

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