Carl Hulse Indulges Russ Feingold's Preening Liberal Melodrama

New York Times congressional reporter Carl Hulse’s “Congressional Memo” Tuesday was a late valentine to former Wisconsin senator and preening liberal hero Russ Feingold, “In New Book, Ex-Senator Says Fear Clouded Judgment After 9-11.

Hulse, who has a history of promoting Democrats while dismissing Republicans, portrayed Feingold as a brave maverick trying to thwart a rising tide of fear.

Russ Feingold always went his own way in the Senate, much to the frequent aggravation of his Democratic colleagues. But the Wisconsin Democrat was never more alone than on Oct. 11, 2001, when he was the sole opponent to the Patriot Act antiterror law pushed through on a 96-1 vote in the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“This was indeed an intimidating time,” Mr. Feingold writes in his new book, “While America Sleeps” (Crown Publishers), his personal recounting of the historic Congressional period following the Sept. 11 shock through the rise of the Tea Party conservatism that led to the loss of his own Senate seat in November 2010.

Best known as the chief Democratic architect of the campaign finance law, Mr. Feingold assembles a narrative of how the terrorist attacks, the deadly anthrax assault in the capital and the sniper killings in the Washington region created a climate of fear that ultimately led to the antiterrorism law, the war in Iraq and ugly political attacks. The pleasant Capitol Hill neighborhood that he inhabited became an armed camp reminiscent of another anxious period in American history when civil liberties were at risk.

“The combination of constant security fears with the weightiness of the responsibilities made this what had to be one of the most tense and frightening times on Capitol Hill since the Civil War,” he writes.

It was the searing combination of events that he credits with knocking Congress off kilter from the days of political unity immediately following the attacks to sharp divisions and distrust, an atmosphere that he says allowed the administration of President George W. Bush to successfully push its agenda despite severe doubts among lawmakers.