Monday, February 07, 2005

"Q&A" Comments

Well, yesterday I probably gave C-SPAN the highest ratings its ever had against the Super Bowl, when I watched Senator Feingold's "Q&A" interview when it first aired at 7 central. And it was worth it. For those who didn't see it, check out the transcript and video here.

Senator Feingold did a great job-intelligent and affable, as always. Lamb asked a lot of campaign finance related questions, and Senator Feingold did a good job pointing that McCain-Feingold, while imperfect, did get senators and congressmen out of the business of asking for huge soft money contributions. But it wasn't all campaign finance-we also learned that the Senator's younger sister was the first female rabbi in Wisconsin and that a guy named Henry Janes went around the country in the 19th century founding cities called Janesville-including the Senator's hometown.

And, of course, 2008 was brought up. The Senator gave his standard answer, but Brian Lamb briefly showed the website. Go C-SPAN!

Here are my two favorite parts of the interview:

LAMB: We get calls all the time on our call-in show that, people will say, this is a Christian nation.

Does that bother you when you hear that?

FEINGOLD: I don't like that. I don't think that's right. It's certainly one of the things it is, is a Christian nation. But it's also Jewish and Buddhist and Islamic, and for those who don't have, follow an organized religion.

One of the reasons that I believe so passionately in our Constitution, in our system of government, and in particular in the Bill of Rights, is that I do believe that the separation of church and state are essential for the freedom and the comfort of those of us who are minorities- those of us whose grandparents or great-grandparents came here to get away from religious persecution. That is fundamental to me and to my family.

And so, if it ever comes to the point where people say, well, you know, really this is a just a Christian nation, and others really are second-class citizens, that is not the America that I believe in. And I will fight to stop efforts to do that.

As an agnostic, I'm glad to see someone in Congress who understands and respects separation of church and state. Many of our founding fathers had views that offended the religious orthodoxy of their day, and they left God out of the Constitution for a reason. Thanks Senator Feingold, for reminding us that we're all Americans, regardless of our religious beliefs or lack thereof.

But here's the more important question, when looking at 2008:

LAMB: What's a progressive?

FEINGOLD: In Wisconsin, a progressive is somebody who believes firmly in individual rights, who believes that government should be used only when appropriate- not automatically, but where appropriate- to help solve our problems.

For example, if older people are inappropriately going to nursing homes prematurely, a Progressive says, maybe there's a way we can create a home and community-based program that will help balance that. That's a Wisconsin progressive.

But a Wisconsin progressive is also very pro-small business and pro-farmer. And also, tough as nails on spending.

Wisconsin progressives believe that if you want to do something, you should figure out a way to pay for it. So at the same time- so at the same time that I'm a person who is considered Progressive- sometimes called a Liberal- I also am known as one of the top one or two deficit hawks in the whole Senate.

I am the toughest on unnecessary spending. The Concord Coalition has put me on their honor roll. Because that's how we look at it in Wisconsin.

It doesn't matter what your political views are, you've got to pay the bills. You can't run up debts. That isn't about ideology, that's about good government.

And that's really the heart of Wisconsin progressivism. It's about clean, good government. And part of clean, good government in my view is not running up huge bills.

Am I the only one who thinks that's a message that will appeal to people across the nation, not just in Wisconsin?

Please read or see the whole interview!



At 6:22 PM, Blogger LeftistIndependent said...

I am not much of a football fan, so I have no regrets on skipping the game to watch Feingold's interview on Cspan.

The interview was interesting. I especially liked a lot of Senator Feingold's remarks on gift bans, campaign finance reform, big money in politics, and his refusual to take a pay hike in the middle of a term. How many Senators actually return money to the treasury when Congress gives itself a raise? Not many.

At 9:46 PM, Blogger whodat527 said...

I thought that I was a strong Feingold supporter, but I even had to watch the Super Bowl live and tape the Feingold interview.

There were many highlights, but I will just go over a few of my favorite parts. Russ discussed in great detail the many problems of the current campaign system, but at the same time he also dislayed a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism on how to reform the system. I like how Russ mentioned that the average contribution to his most recent campaign was under $60. Now that's true reform. Russ also did a fine job defending the McCain-Feinglod law.

I am glad that Brian Lamb asked Senator Feingold about John McCain receiving the lion's share of attention on campaign finance reform. I have often wondered why Russ didn't garner more attention on this issue, and he often seemed to have been overshadowed by McCain. I obviously consider Senator Feingold the better half of McCain-Feingold.

I enjoyed the part where Russ was talking about the USA PATRIOT Act and said that he did something unusual for a legislator -- he actually read the bill. I like how Russ reiterated that President Bush was "dead wrong" on Iraq. I, too, liked the Senator's definition of a progressive. I really appreciate Senator Feingold's emphasis on fiscal repsonsibility.

On a related topic, it looks like Howard Dean is a lock to win the chairmanship of the DNC. How will this affect a potential Feingold candidacy?I think Russ has the potential to win the support of many Democrats who, like me, supported Dean in 2003 and early 2004. Russ Feingold was actually my first choice in 2004. When he decided not to run, I decided to back Dean. Will Governor Dean want to retain the status quo with the Iowa caucus and NH primary? Whatever you think of Iowa and NH (and I have mixed feelings), I think these two states are almost perfectly suited for Russ Feingold. Any thoughts?

At 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the interview, especially the two parts you highlighted. There's a great article on the founders' opinions on religion from the Nation, cross-posted on CBS' website. I agree completely that "Wisconsin progressivism" has great nationwide appeal.

I also loved when Sen. Feingold talked about his blended family, saying that when they ate out, "people couldn’t figure out what kind of an organization we were." We also learned that his wife Mary is a writer. Cool.

Two other things I liked:

LAMB: Should the Republican president get his judicial nominees, on the floor at least, for an up-and-down vote?

FEINGOLD: Senator McCain and I had over 50 votes for McCain-Feingold for years. We didn’t say, hey, no fair. We said, we’ve got to get our 60 votes. That’s how the Senate works.


LAMB: Can somebody with your views be elected president of the United States in the four to eight years?

FEINGOLD: I think it’s possible. It would be a very unusual change in our country. But, you know, people sort of said to me when I was a state senator, that somebody with my views couldn’t be elected to the United States Senate.

So, I think, to assume that there’s never going to be change, that we won’t ever have a different perspective, I think is a defeatist attitude.

It would be tough, because I really do believe in a progressive agenda. I do not believe in a stick our head in the sand and just let the healthcare system go, just let the jobs go overseas.

The people of the country would have to want a candidate, a person, who is going to really move for real reform.

It starts with us; let's do this thing!

At 5:48 PM, Blogger Direwolf said...

I've been reading here for some time but this is my first post. First off, great job on the site. Intelligent posts and the comments are well written as well.

I live in the Chicago suburbs and own a home in Bayfield, WI. So though I don't vote for Russ I still consider him one of my own. I'm pretty active in politics. I was elected to my school board in 1997 for a four year term. I am currenlty co-chairing a freind's campaign for village trustee. And I co-hosted one of the larger Dean Meetups in the Chicago area.

I think Russ has what it takes to win the nomination and the presidency. He will be tagged as too liberal but his independence and integrity will make the liberal label fall flat. I think the quotes in the Lam b interview about a Wisconsin progressive will go over well witht he electorate. Back in 2000, I thought that a third party ticket of Bradley-McCain or Mccain-Bradley could have won the White House. There is a longing for a new way. A way driven by integrity and independence. Russ can fill that longing. By the way, I have soured greatly on McCain. He showed his true colors in the 2004 campaign when his career long conservative voting record came out in his sellout support of Bush. After South Carolina in 2000, if he really had the integrity he is credited for he would never support Bush. Quite simply, had Feingold been in McCain's place, he never would have supported Bush.

Finally, I am very confident that much of the Dean base will support Feingold. Reading DailyKos tells you that. Listening to people talk at Meetups this very month tells you that. Dean at DNC will be a good thing for the arty and good for Feingold as well in 2008.

At 5:56 PM, Blogger whodat527 said...

Here's another article about Russ Feingold. I am not sure if I learned anything new about Russ, but I certainly did enjoy this article. I think Mr. McNally effectively shows that Senator Feingold is very "electable."

A rarity: A politician with real convictions
By Joel McNally

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold told Democrats in Florida recently he would decide whether to run for the presidency after "going around the country" building "national organizations of people" committed to taking back the White House.

Of course, if Feingold weren't already leaning toward becoming a candidate, why would a Wisconsin Senator be campaigning in Florida?

Feingold won his third term by crushing Republican Tim Michels, an early favorite of George Bush's political brain Karl Rove, at the same time Democrat John Kerry barely eked out a victory over Bush in Wisconsin.

The same qualities that made Feingold's previous elections extremely close - his courage to stand up for progressive political causes in a repressive political age - now have made him a formidable incumbent in state electoral politics.

What are the chances his political strengths could be translated nationally into a serious run for the presidency? They could be greater than they've been for any other state politician in history.

The last one to even consider the idea was former Gov. Tommy Thompson. Thompson's problem was that his backslapping, small-town pol persona, which served him so well in the state, was snickered at by the national press when he stepped outside.

Feingold, a good-looking, articulate Rhodes scholar, has much more instant credibility with your basic Eastern elitists.

A couple of other political developments over the past year - the rise of Howard Dean and the loss by John Kerry - suggest this might just be the right moment in history for a candidate such as Feingold.

What Dean proved was that a relatively obscure politician from a backwater state with a clear, direct, progressive message could not only connect with voters, but also raise the enormous sums of money needed to run for president.

In fact, Dean's early strength was that he dared to utter that clear, direct, progressive message at a time when most other Democrats - with the visible exception of Feingold - were terrified to oppose the Bush administration's warmongering and attacks on civil liberties after 9/11.

Dean's ability to raise money and organize volunteers across the country through the Internet changed the whole dynamic of presidential politics.

It gave a former governor from the tiny state of Vermont the ability to tap into the necessary millions to run for president. It could do the same for a Senator from Wisconsin.

Kerry adopted Dean's organizational and fund-raising template. Using the same computer fund-raising, the Democratic candidate nearly matched the hundreds of millions of dollars wealthy businessmen automatically shower on the Republican candidate to look out for their interests.

As a result, Kerry almost beat an incumbent Republican president who had cynically wrapped himself in war and terror. Why Bush ultimately succeeded and Kerry didn't also points to Feingold's strength as a national candidate.

Even though opinion polls showed voters had grave doubts about the war in Iraq and the worst budget deficits in history, the Bush campaign succeeded in making Kerry look equivocal and uncertain about what he would do as president.

Kerry tied himself in verbal knots trying to explain seemingly contradictory votes on the war and other national issues. Being thoughtful about complex issues doesn't always pay off in politics.

A candidate who can present convictions in simple, black-and-white terms can come off appearing resolute even if he's wrong. Voters who didn't necessarily agree with Bush told pollsters they liked the president because they knew where he stood.

Comedian Jon Stewart summed up this paradoxical political appeal as: "He drove us into a brick wall, but he didn't blink!"

Without being simple-minded, Feingold has been able to turn clear, strong, progressive convictions on the issues into a political strength in Wisconsin even among voters who are more conservative.

By having the courage to cast the sole vote in the U.S. Senate against the USA Patriot Act, by daring to vote against invading Iraq when other Democrats who knew it was wrong were hiding under their desks, Feingold won admiration as one of those rare politicians with real convictions.

A successful Feingold candidacy would finally put to rest the idea promoted by Republicans that presidential candidates are required to have troglodyte views on social issues.

Feingold is liberal on social issues, supporting a woman's right to choose and opposing the death penalty. At the same time, he is a fiscal conservative who supports a balanced budget. With budget deficits in the bazillions by the end of another Bush term, fiscal responsibility may trump everything else.

Intriguingly, if Feingold won the nomination, he could end up running against his old campaign finance reform partner, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Finally, we could remove hundreds of millions of dollars in special interest money from presidential politics. Who are they going to give it to - McCain or Feingold?

Joel McNally is former editor of the Milwaukee alternative weekly Shepherd Express and appears weekly on the WMVS-TV public television show "Interchange." His e-mail address is:

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