Steve Klingaman

Steve Klingaman
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
January 01
Steve Klingaman is a nonprofit development consultant and nonfiction writer specializing in personal finance and public policy. His music reviews can be found at

Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 7, 2010 8:24AM

Russ Feingold: A Real Maverick Confronts an Improbable End

Rate: 12 Flag

Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold 

AP / Lee Marriner 

Here in the Midwest we produce more than our share of throwbacks.  Minnesota Twin Joe Mauer is a local Pheenom who stays with the hometown team.  Garrison Keillor channels Samuel Clemens, who hailed from just downriver.  And Senator Russ Feingold resembles “Fighting Bob” La Follette who graced the halls of Congress and the Wisconsin state house in the 1920s as a progressive who made a difference.

            Feingold is facing a political unknown with no real history in this, his quest for a fourth term in office, and that opponent, Ron Johnson, is leading by an average of nine points in the polls largely on the basis of being able to fog a mirror.  That the dynamics of this race differs from any other in the 2010 Senate landscape is down to Feingold’s penchant for doing it his way.  His way means no outside Democratic attack ads, no running away from President Obama, and no running away from his voting record in Congress.

            If Johnson wants to lie about Feingold’s record on health care reform by charging, “A majority of Wisconsinites opposed the government takeover of health care. But Russ Feingold voted for it anyway,” (flat-out False on the PolitiFact meter) Feingold stands by his support of health care reform.  Johnson, who has not yet won the support of Wisconsin tea partiers, nonetheless comes across as tea party-ish, especially on the issue of health care reform.  He lost the endorsement of one tea party group, the Rock River Patriots, because they felt he didn't know the Constitution well enough.

            Asked about his rejection of outside help in this season of post-Citizen’s United Darth Vader-financed corporate hit pieces Feingold said, “I consider it to be outside help of a kind that is uncontrolled and tends to believe in a philosophy of slash-and-burn politics. That's frankly not who I am. I don't want to win that way.”  That’s what he told AOL’s Walter Shapiro this week, even as his own prospects looked increasingly clouded.

            So what is that, principled or just plain nuts?  Or, in the current era, are the principled automatically nuts?  If so, and if we lose Feingold to the Senate, we will have lost more than just one good vote left of center.  We will have lost perhaps the last exemplar of a tradition that once described the membership of the Senate to a degree far greater than we find today in the shadowed chambers of our degraded national debating society.

            Feingold, of course, is best known for the McCain-Feingold Act, the campaign finance reform law—a law that is almost universally detested and honored only in the breach.  It was a little bit like healthcare reform, a quixotic turn against overwhelming resistance—a resistance that was partially hidden or disguised at the time of its passage but subsequently emerged in a paroxysm of loophole exploitation.

Beyond that, he was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act the first time around.  He is an unabashed bipartisan practitioner.  He opposed NAFTA.  He opposed H.J. Resolution 114 authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002.  He’s for immigration reform, hates capital punishment, and voted against the confirmation of Timothy Geithner.  In short, he is a maverick to a degree that McCain never really was.  He is a man who thinks for himself, and votes as he thinks. And for this, apparently, we will lose him.

Wisconsin is a state with a blue urban south surrounded by red-to-purple ‘burbs and a deep red rural North.  It swings as most states swing, by the economy, and is sharply reactive by virtue of its exposure to a declining manufacturing sector.  Wisconsin is less affluent than Minnesota, its buttoned-down neighbor to the west, and noticeably more progressive, primarily due to its neighbor’s rightward drift in recent years.

This makes Feingold’s shortfall a little hard to fathom.  He is no Barbara Boxer, and certainly, decidedly, no Harry Reid.  More than anything he carries the DNA of a progressive reformer, almost more in the sense of those turn-of-the-century reformers, those trustbusters, upon whose backs Theodore Roosevelt stood.  He is—and this is the most important fact about him in the present moment—an ardent anti-corporatist.  The Committee for Truth in Politics, a corporate stealth group, has targeted Feingold with $7 million in fresh money according to the Wall Street Journal.  The group has ties to a North Carolina attorney named James Bopp, “one of the lead attorneys in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case,” according to the WSJ.  The paper quotes Feingold’s aide, John Kraus, as saying, “It's no surprise that corporate special interests are attacking Sen. Feingold, he is not their friend,”

In the face of the facts about Feingold’s political career, his opponent’s—and his opponent’s surrogates’—attempts to paint him as just another rubber-stamp Democrat is untrue to the degree that it insults the state’s electorate.  But, and here’s the strangest thing, I don’t know if they know that.   Sometimes a fresh face is just a pig in a poke, in this case one delivered by deep-pocketed corporate handlers, but in Wisconsin this year that might be all it takes.


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Poor Russ. He was the only democrat who's gun policy I supported. Now some unknown F/T is going to oust him.
Don't forget that "deep red rural north" is the home of favorite son Dave Obey, and loves Russ Feingold.
Losing Feingold is a travesty but just goes to show Americans do not want real change or leadership, just smoke and mirrors done in the name of it.

But this part made me laugh: "He lost the endorsement of one tea party group, the Rock River Patriots, because they felt he didn't know the Constitution well enough". That's like a first grader who can't read calling him out for not being well read.
American's political views like the wind.
As they say in Project Runway,
"one day you are in and the next day you are out"
Rated with hugs
Kathy, uh oh, a critique from a local! Point well taken. Unfortunately Dave Obey is retiring this year. He will be missed. And it should be pointed out that the three counties in the northwestern corner of the state, including the town city of Superior are reliable Democratic counties.

I hang out in northern Wisconsin a lot. Perhaps I've been swayed by the Lakeland Times writing incessantly about the "jackbooted DNR," cowboy-style open carry in Minocqua, and those odd, odd hand-made fire and brimstone signs along the two-lanes.
Losing Feingold from the Senate rises to the level of a national tragedy. He is by all accounts the single smartest senator in recent decades...and the only one whose opinions mostly mirror my own. I can even forgive him is wobbles on gun control issues.

Why is it that the really good ones shoot themselves in the foot by being really good and actually living their philosophies?

Hey, if they weren't Jews, I'll bet you a Feingold-Franken ticket could sweep the democrats back in 2012.

Seriously, I think we're going to have to go through a long dark tunnel before the American people realize that they've been had again and finally start beginning to listen to reason.

Also, please clean up your blog. Mary Lin has shit in your sand box.
Sage, thanks, & on issue of spam, I am getting overwhelmed. I've got a couple of recent posts on which I have deleted well over a hundred spams each! Manually. One by one. And now they have started in on this one.
I met Russ Feingold when he was making a campaign stop through Duluth-Superior with Paul Wellstone. Two of the most decent and principled men I have ever met. If Feingold loses his seat, it will be a loss to all Americans... not just those from Wisconsin.
Wisconsin is not "more progressive" than Minnesota - Wisconsin just doesn't have a major third party spoiling for the GOP as Minnesota has for a number of years now. In addition, Minnesota's taxation system and state aid to the cities has always been more progressive, resulting in lower rates of rural poverty and left-leaning areas in rural and northern territories. Feingold is the one in a state drifting to the right, even if people in Madison haven't noticed. Unfortunately, as the citizens of Wisconsin remove Feingold, they are voting directly against their own best interests - and Minnesota's poised to purge the GOP from the governor's office, giving that state yet another opportunity to fix what's broken and jump ahead of WI. This matters quite a bit. With all sorts of cultural ties, reciprocal agreements, etc, moving from WI to MN is not out of the question for those looking for a better life. The great sorting out is happening - and if WI keeps going right, with MN starting to drift left (never having gone nearly as far right to begin with) the states economies will drift apart even more.
Cruzy, Cheeseheads less progressive than Minnesota under Pawlenty? You must be kidding. Don't get me started...or rather let's just start with comparing Minnesota's current stance on state-based health care with Badger Care. Or the University of Minnesota's attempted censorship of "Troubled Waters" for fear of offending ag interests in the legislature, or the pathetic failure of mission on the part of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. There are so many ways to count Minnesota's retreat from progressivism...State aid to cities? Pawlenty started gutting that in 2003.... so many ways.
Count me as one Minnesotan who respects Feingold more than anyone else in the Senate. And I'm counting the days when Timmy is no longer our governor!
My impression of Feingold was that he was one of the best people in congress or perhaps I should say the least bad. I was initially in favor of the McCain Feingold bill and still believe it was probably better than what they had before they watered it down but have reconsidered. What we need is a bill that puts the control of the job interview process in the hands of the people. This should enable the public to influence a job application like the one provide by Vote-Smart and ask questions directly from the candidates without screening from reporters although it should also include some investigation by sincere researchers.

However the way they are trying to smear candidates left and right now without any fact checks I’m inclined to agree with you. Instead of trying to fix the problems they are trying to corrupt the system even more.
Feingold has often been ignored and sold out by his own caucus, so his effectiveness has been damaged, especially during the Bush years when he was the only Democrat opposing Bush bullshit. Would that he finds a new role like Jimmy Carter did, and a new respect from the people who shoved him under the bus in the Senate.
Steve, both Dave and Russ are longtime friends of the family.
the only compensation for watching my native land sink beneath the waves is the firm conviction that you get the government you deserve. a nation too dumb to see the need for democracy will be sold by its masters, piece by piece, job by job, until there is no more to be sold. then those masters will retire to monaco and laugh when they read about food riots among their one-time cattle.
As a WI expatriate...I deeply hope Feingold can pull off a miracle. If not, my former neighbors will get the plutocrat government they deserve. Sadly.
Feingold is in the mold of Harry Truman, and that's very good company. Harry was warned that integrating the armed forces would cost him the Presidency, and he replied that if it did, the job wasn't worth having.

Feingold may lose, but he'll lose with his soul intact -- which is far more than be said about many other mealy-mouthed, cowering Democrats. And soul isn't even a consideration with the Corporate Lackeys and Wacko Wingnuts thrown up by the Republicans.
Great article. Screw the polling. The election isn't over yet. Let's hope that Russ gets a big push in the end when the voters come to their senses.
An excellent piece - rated. I read it because I've been very impressed by Feingold ever since his lone vote against the “““““Patriot Act”””””. It's a great overview of the factors that may drive Feingold out of the Senate. And as an expatriate Minnesotan who has recently visited Wisconsin, I found the discussion of the two states in the comments a great bonus.
I can say that feingold is one of the few I have sent money to, and I live in Colorado (here Ive only sent money to Ed Perlmutter, who I have know personally for perhaps 20 years). Feingold and Sanders are the only two I think are derserving of support by all progressives. I hope more of you reach into your pockets and try to fend off the teabagging idiots on the other side.
It's mind-boggling to me (Wisconsin born and bred) that Feingold will lose his seat. Then again, my mind is already boggled with the conflating of "fear" of big government with the willful blindness on the part of the American public when it comes to separating fact from fiction.

I'd say "fine; let the American public experience a reduction in services, an increase in funding for poorly planned security and 'defense' programs, a decrease in spending for health or education, and an increase in the net worth of the richest two percent of our citizens with a corollary widening of the income gap" --except I am also part of the American public--or I thought I was.
Russ Feingold's imminent departure (believe it; the secret anti-Feingold fund-raising groups are all over the Internet) is a travesty. I grew up in Wisconsin and I don't recognize it.