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Now Make Him Wave

When Russell Feingold committed political suicide on the floor of the Senate, liberals’ first impulse was to avert your eyes: "Move along, nothing to see here." The Washington Post respectfully buried the sad event on A8 (or was it A9? I can’t remember). But when the feet sticking out from under the tarp didn’t go unnoticed, they quickly picked him up, applied some makeup, and — hey presto! — today he’s a "maverick," right smack on the front page.

In "A Senate Maverick Acts to Force an Issue," Shailagh Murray tries to revive him:

When Feingold first ran for the Senate in 1992, he was much the same person he is today: a Democratic outsider and iconoclast and a darling of progressives.

While other Democrats speak more colorfully, or show up more often on television, Feingold has carved a niche as one of the least-predictable senators. As he contemplates a presidential bid, he is emerging as an anti-establishment maverick, a blend of Howard Dean, John McCain and the late Wisconsin progressive senator William Proxmire.

Meanwhile, the red-shirt-and-red-tie crowd at The Nation think they know who this strange "Senator Russ" is. Or maybe not. In "A Peculiar Politician," William Greider harkens back to the good old days:

The senator is peculiar in this era of decaying democracy. There was a time, believe it or not, when his type was a familiar presence in the Senate. I think of Sam Ervin of North Carolina, a conservative Democrat on most matters but always a lion on the Constitution. Ervin is remembered for his heroic role in the investigation of Watergate. Old-timers remember that before Watergate, Senator Sam led courageous hearings on the illegal spying on civilians by the Army and FBI (Democratic scandals predating Nixon).

When liberalism was in flower, the Senate always included a good mix of such maverick voices. They were party loyalists but departed on principle in ways that sometimes kept the majority honest. Voted against the President’s war in Vietnam and never let up. Ernest Gruening of Alaska, Wayne Morse of Oregon, Albert Gore Sr. of Tennessee. Phil Hart of Michigan was his own one-man reform party. George McGovern of South Dakota was another.

Whether there’s any political life left in Senator Russ, the poor guy clearly needs some branding. This whole maverick-Howard Dean-John McCain-William Proxmire-Sam Ervin-Ernest Gruening-Wayne Morse-Albert Gore Sr-Phil Hart-George McGovern thing is just too confusing.

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Mr. Moffat is a freelance writer in Bethesda, Md.

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