November 13, 2005
WASHINGTON -- After winning, at the relatively tender age of
51, a third Senate term in 2004 with 55 percent of Wisconsin's
vote, five points better than John Kerry's winning percentage,
and carrying 27 of the 45 Wisconsin counties that President Bush
carried, Russ Feingold went to play golf -- on a public
course, this fastidious populist stresses -- in Greenville, Ala.
That town might hereafter be known as the birthplace of Feingold's
Feingold says, implausibly, that ``I don't think about it'' --
seeking the Democrats' 2008 presidential nomination -- ``very
much.'' But he does brood about a ``50-state strategy'' for Democrats.
He found many Alabamians with problems common to Americans everywhere,
and receptive to ``progressive'' solutions.
Well, yes. Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians always vote
Democratic. John Kerry won 693,933. Al Gore, 692,611. Even George
McGovern won 256,923. There are ``progressives'' everywhere, and
in the Deep South there still are ``yellow dog Democrats'' who
would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket.
But Democratic presidential candidates have lost Alabama in 10
of the last 11 elections -- a Georgian carried the state in 1976.
Today, by the time a Democratic presidential aspirant has genuflected
at all the altars erected by ``the groups'' -- the organizations
of liberal activists -- he or she is disqualified from turning
red states blue.
A good liberal -- the Senate's most pure, according to the liberal
Americans for Democratic Action, whose rating of his career (97)
is higher than that of Ted Kennedy (90), Barbara Boxer (92), John
Kerry (93) and Hillary Clinton (95) -- Feingold is a conscientious
recycler. Of chimeras. For example, he favors energy ``independence,''
a goal that has steadily receded in the more than three decades
since President Nixon endorsed it.
He also favors fiscal responsibility. His office wall is adorned
with a large display of the 82-point -- yes, 82 -- plan for reducing
the deficit, a plan featured in his first Senate campaign in 1992,
when Ross Perot was helpfully rampant on the subject of balanced
budgets. But fiscal rectitude, a faith constantly avowed but rarely
constraining, thrills few liberals -- or conservatives, on current
Still, Feingold is as Wisconsin, and in some ways as admirable,
as Leinenkugel's beer. Since Robert La Follette Sr. became governor
104 years ago, Wisconsin has frequently produced politicians,
such as former Sen. William Proxmire, who flamboyantly favor,
not always convincingly, both progressive policies -- e.g., workers'
compensation, the income tax -- and government frugality.
Feingold became luminous in the eyes of ``the groups,'' who consider
most congressional Democrats spineless, by casting the only Senate
vote against the Patriot Act. But he peeved those people by voting
to confirm John Roberts as chief justice, and his presidential
aspirations could be injured by the chief justice casting the
deciding vote in some 5-4 ruling offensive to ``the groups.''
Such as one overturning the political speech-rationing apparatus
erected by the main reason Feingold is a familiar name -- the
Regarding Iraq, Feingold believes, plausibly, that opposition
is growing fastest where recent Democratic presidential candidates
have been weakest, in rural and small town America -- he recently
found it simmering in Pickerel, Wis. -- where a disproportionate
number of the combat forces are from. Although he supported the
invasion of Afghanistan, and says ``the fight against terror is
America's number one priority,'' he was one of 21 Democratic senators
who voted against the Iraq War and now is to the left of most
Democratic senators in demanding that the Bush administration
define metrics of success and in asking that President Bush set
a timetable for meeting them. Feingold proposes the target date
of Dec. 31, 2006, for withdrawal.
But he has a problem to his left. The anti-war movement is apt
to exert a perhaps ruinous gravitational pull on the 2008 intraparty
Cindy Sheehan, surely a Republican mole toiling to make the anti-war
position repulsive, starred at a Washington rally that featured
exactly two speakers from Congress -- including Cynthia McKinney,
the Georgia Democrat who darkly hints that President Bush may
have known that the 9/11 attacks were coming and welcomed them
as a boost for defense-industry stocks owned by ``persons close
to'' his administration. In 2008, the many Democratic activists
who vibrate like tuning forks to such stimuli will find their
Howard Dean, some firebrand who will force, or tempt, other candidates
to move in his direction. If that person is not Feingold,
the country could conceivably have this contest: McCain vs. Feingold.
2005, Washington Post Writers Group