The New York Times does not have Russ Feingold’s back. But that is probably because they are missing the point.

We understand the frustration that led Senator Russell Feingold to introduce a measure that would censure President Bush for authorizing warrantless spying on Americans. It’s galling to watch from the outside as the Republicans and most Democrats refuse time and again to hold Mr. Bush accountable for the lawlessness and incompetence of his administration. Actually sitting among that cowardly crew must be maddening.

Still, the censure proposal is a bad idea. Members of Congress don’t need to take extraordinary measures like that now. They need to fulfill their sworn duty to investigate the executive branch’s misdeeds and failings. Talk about censure will only distract the public from the failure of their elected representatives to earn their paychecks.

We’d be applauding Mr. Feingold if he’d proposed creating a bipartisan panel to determine whether the domestic spying operation that Mr. Bush has acknowledged violates the 1978 surveillance law, as it certainly seems to do. The Senate should also force the disclosure of any other spying Mr. Bush is conducting outside the law. (Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has strongly hinted that is happening.)

The Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees should do this, but we can’t expect a real effort from Senator Pat Roberts, the Intelligence Committee chairman, or Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. They’re too busy trying to give legal cover to the president’s trampling on the law and the Constitution.

What Gail Collins doesn’t seem to understand is that Russ Feingold is only dramatizing and highlighting the stonewalling of Roberts and Specter. While Collins does go on to urge Senator Reid to close down the Senate (as he most assuredly should do) she fails to give Feingold credit for bringing the unresolved issue of the NSA program (and other illegal domestic surveillance) to the forefront of our political debate.

Collins writes off his efforts, thusly:

With so much still unknown about the domestic spying, the censure resolution merely allows the Republicans to change the subject to fairy tales about Democratic leaders’ trying to impeach Mr. Bush. They are also painting criticism of Mr. Bush as unpatriotic. That’s tedious nonsense, but watching Mr. Feingold’s Democratic colleagues run for cover shows how effective it is.

Before Russ brought up censure his colleagues were already running for cover and they were getting away with it. If we can’t get a real investigation then we should censure the son of a bitch.

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