I approve this message: Applauding Russ Feingold

Realizing the futility of my effort – FiveThirtyEight puts Feingold’s chances at winning at only 6% as of Sunday, October 17th – I still cannot let the opportunity go by to add my own voice to many others lauding Senator Russ Fiengold’s career and lamenting the likely outcome of his 2010 Senate campaign.

Although I’m clearly biased because many of Feingold’s political positions agree with my own, I had always thought that people on both sides of the aisle would have to respect the political integrity and independence that Feingold brought to the Senate. Perhaps most notably, Feingold was the only senator to vote against the PATRIOT Act at a time when doing so raised a lot of criticism. But his claim to independence does not stop there – as this New York Times index page on Feingold notes, he has voted with the opposing party many times when he disagreed with his own.

And it is these independent positions that Feingold continues to describe in his campaign efforts. Among the most prominent is Feingold’s efforts on campaign finance, with the bipartisan McCain-Feingold bill (“I approve this message”) among his crowning achievements on the issue. After the Supreme Court decision that overturned one of the key tenets of this bill, Feingold has continued to make election reform a key part of his platform. This isn’t a sexy issue – in the weeks after the decision, 35% of the public had heard nothing about it and this issue isn’t even included in most polls. However, because Feingold considers this an important issue, he continues to make the case for reform – for example, it was one of the issues brought up in his speech at UW-Madison. This, of course, is only one example of Feingold’s tendency to put what he thinks is right for the nation above what he might find politically expedient in the short-term.

What makes the race for me even more troubling is that his opponent, Ron Johnson, offers little of substance to the electorate. Although it is not the first time that a party has prospered by being the anti-incumbent party (Democrats in 2006 are a good example), Johnson appears to have even less of substance to offer. Watching his campaign commercials does not offer clarity on his positions, other than his preference for apple pie. Of course, the reason he does not talk much about his issue positions might be that few will find them palatable: for example, his opposition to the Child Victim’s Act, meant to make it easier for child victims of sexual abuse to sue their abusers, citing the financial implications, or his claim that climate change is not man-made but caused by sunspots. His other positions are pretty standard for the GOP this term – opposition to federal health care, TARP, and cutting taxes for everyone.

Russ Feingold has been representing Wisconsin in the Senate for 18 years – one year longer than I’ve lived here. I’m surprised and depressed that I will remain a resident of this state when he no longer represents us. So while this blog post may not change any minds about the race, I want to say “thank you” to Feingold for his service to our state and our country with the hope that he will have the opportunity to serve us for many years to come.

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