Feingold Is Gold
June 14, 2006 - 11:28am ET
There has never been any doubt that Sen. Russ Feingold would run a take-no-prisoners campaign if he formally jumps into the 2008 presidential race, so I was not surprised by his unapologetic stance against the Iraq war, the Bush administration and some of his Democratic colleagues at the Take Back America conference this morning. Still, it was good to be reassured that Feingold remains unafraid to stand out amid Democrats who would prefer to play it safe in their bid to take back control of Congress and the White House.
In the closing hours of the conference, a fervent crowd of conference participants—many wearing “Run, Russ, Run” stickers—soaked up every word.
“I love you Russ,” one man yelled as the Wisconsin Democrat walked to the microphone. “I do, too,” a woman chimed in.
Feingold enjoyed the adulation, but wasted no time in stressing that the Iraq war resolution and the USA Patriot Act were signed into law when Democrats were in control of the Senate. “Being in the majority is not enough,” he said. "We have to show that when we're in the majority, that we are ready to stand on principle and do the right thing."
Feingold said he has found plenty of affirmation as he has participated in listening sessions in his own state and around the country as citizens grow more alarmed at the Bush administration’s mismanagement of the Iraq war and its disregard for basic constitutional protections. “People say the exact same thing,” he said. “I have never seen anything like it. They say, ‘When are you guys going to stand up?’ ”
He said that Democrats must fight the perception that they will back down when the Bush administration begins saber-rattling, as he said they have done on Iraq and on his authorization of illegal wiretaps as part of the war on terror.
“There will not be progressive change this year, or any year, if you think we are going to win by default,” he said. “We must show that we will take strong stands on tough issues.”
At the closing luncheon, Sen. Barack Obama, the freshman Illinois senator who remains the Democratic Party's rock star, had a similar message. "The time for our identity crisis as progressives is over," he told the audience. He said that progressives have a compelling message about an America in which people take responsibility for the well-being of each other, in contrast to the Republican philosophy of men and women for themselves.
If progressive candidates press that message as it applies to such issues as health care, education, the economy, energy and foreign policy, "I guarantee you that America is looking to us to lead," he said.
Feingold has introduced a resolution that would censure President Bush for authorizing an illegal wiretapping program, reputedly for monitoring terrorist suspects, and misleading the public about its existence. He said that while political pundits initially considered the move political suicide, there was instead a groundswell of support for censure around the country. Feingold said that he does not support impeachment at this time, but censure is a “perfectly reasonable thing that we must do.”
Not doing so, he said, would be a failure of this generation to reassert the system of checks and balances the Founding Fathers envisioned when they wrote the Constitution.
Feingold’s message was tailored to the already converted choir of Take Back America attendees, but the key points of his message— that the Bush administration and his Republican water-bearers in Congress have violated the fundamental values upon which this country was founded—is a message that is increasingly being shared outside the progressive camp. That knowledge has clearly emboldened Feingold to not only take on the Republicans but Democratic colleagues who have been too fearful to confront the Republican political juggernaut with a distinctly progressive message.
He urged listeners to remember the 1994 “tsunami” that dramatically washed a complacent and listless Democratic party out of power in Congress and began a decade of Republican dominance. “This year can be a year in which we win for a couple of years,” Feingold said, pointing to the 2006 elections, “or we can win in a progressive way that will last for four years, six years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years, so we can change the face of America.”
Much of the Take Back America conference has been devoted to channeling progressive fervor into a winning political platform. Feingold showed he is clearly interested in being the person who can prove that is possible.
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