My pal Digby flagged this bit of pabulum yesterday from NBC News’ latest wunderkind Luke Russert:

Shuster: What sort of efforts are Harry Reid and his cohorts making toward Russ Feingold?

Lil’ Luke: (smirking) You remember last week or ten days ago that Mary Landrieu was able to get 300 million dollars for Hurricane Katrina down in Lousisiana? Expect Russ Feingold to possibly get something, a nice little present, an early Christmas present from Harry Reid here, possibly that could go to other members.

Obviously David, you know it’s politics. These Senators want what’s best for their home states, if they can hold up a major bill like this and get something in return, they just might do it.

But I think the people who are interesting to look at here are one, is Mr Feingold here, as you mentioned because he is the apotheosis of the progressive wing, but also folks like Blanche Lincoln, like Mary Landrieu, who are very fiscally conservative. If this is very expensive, they might not be on board. We also have to look at Mr Lieberman who has given a little bit of a hint that he might like this idea, but he is very much opposed to the trigger and some folks are looking at Olympia Snowe to possibly give the Democrats that buffer, that one vote buffer they could lose somebody. But she’s not signed on to this 100% at all either David so there’s still a lot of jockeying to be done.

It’s politics at its best, as we like to say at MSNBC.

Set aside for a moment the fact that Russert apparently learned politics from reading the Cliffs Notes to old Chris Matthews books. There are certainly plenty of politicians in Washington who have their price, who are moved by help for their states or their re-election efforts. But about 30 seconds of Googling would show you that the person least likely to exhibit that behavior is Russ Feingold.

This is someone who has a bill introduced to cut wasteful spending by over half a trillion dollars, including projects in his own state. He’s led the fight for statutory PAYGO reforms, that every expenditure has an offset. He was the only vote against the Patriot Act and the only member of Congress to propose the censure of George W. Bush, so lonely causes are not a foreign concept to him. What’s more, this is a guy who asked the DSCC to stop running ads favoring him because they came from soft money:

In fact, Feingold thought he had a clear understanding with (Bob) Kerrey that he didn’t want the DSCC’s soft money ads. “I had a nice conversation with Bob Kerrey on the floor of the Senate. He came up to me and the [Republican] guns were [already] blazing at me, he goes, ‘You don’t want those soft money ads, right?’ I said, ‘No, no.’ He said, ‘Are you winking?’ I said, ‘No I’m not. I’m absolutely not.'” Fred Yang, Feingold’s pollster who knew him well, says that the Washington insiders just couldn’t understand that “Russ is the exception to the rule. He means what he says.”

The pundits said that Feingold was positioning himself for a Presidential run in 2008 when he called for the censure of the President. He took himself out of consideration within days of that chortling. If Russ Feingold could be bought, he would actually have enough money to run for President.

I checked with Feingold’s office, and they wouldn’t talk about Russert’s comments specifically. But I asked whether the Wisconsin Senator had been approached with any sweeteners for his state in order to get on the health care deal, they told me, “the answer is No.”

Not every circumstance calls for paint-by-numbers punditry. And virtually no circumstance calls for Luke Russert talking about it.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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