Much like our neighbors in Minnesota, Wisconsin has a proud history of progressive senators with names like LaFollette, Proxmire and Nelson; but every once in a while a right-wing nut-job with piles of corporate money comes along to derail a distinguished career.
After many years away, I came back to Wisconsin in 1992, just as Russ Feingold was campaigning to reclaim the senate seat that Gaylord Nelson had lost some years earlier. His commercials consisted of grainy film of this young lawyer giving a tour of his house. The folksiness resonated and Feingold became our senator.
In 2001, George Bush railroaded the euphemistically named “Patriot” Act thru Congress. It was riddled with provisions designed to turn America into a fascist police state with warrantless searches, electronic monitoring of citizens, defining “terrorist” to include organizers of consumer boycotts, and arbitrary detainment.
But in those days fear reigned supreme, and the bill was rushed thru the Senate on a 99-1 vote. We were in Europe at the time, and people we met understood how insane this law was. But we could proudly say that the one “no” vote came from OUR senator, Russ Feingold.
This year, he got challenged by a guy named Ron Johnson. He runs a plastics factory in Oshkosh where he is not well-liked by his employees. But he had piles of his own money to throw into the race, and he knew how to con tea-bagger types.
Even the most conservative newspapers in the state would not endorse him. If he didn’t refuse outright to meet with editorial boards, he only spoke in vague sound bytes when he did. Every time he opened his mouth, stupid bullslop would come out, so his handlers had him shut up and bombard the state with tv ads, mailers, and robocalls instead. Never mind that it was all the same stupid bullslop in slick packaging.
I predict that Ron Johnson will be the least distinguished Wisconsin senator since Joe McCarthy (interestingly, they both come from the same general area of the state). Maybe in six years, the state will be so nauseated by Johnson’s antics that Feingold can win his seat back.
Russ Feingold is too good a guy to retire from public life at such a young age. I hope he finds a way to stick around and be a champion of all that is good and decent.
It is very rare that I am impressed with anyone who works in the dark realm of politics, but I was proud to have Russ Feingold as my senator. Tonight, I am ashamed of my state for not re-electing him.