If there is hope for the American experiment, then surely it rests with the prospect that Russ Feingold will serve in the next United States Senate.
That may sound like a lot to expect of one candidate. And it may seem a bit unfair to place so much of the burden for renewing democracy and our governing process on one man.
But Feingold is prepared — better prepared, in fact, than almost anyone in American politics today — to repair the damage done by Donald Trump and the obstructionists and extremists who have gathered around his bid to turn the United States into something it has never been. And that it should never want to be.
As a former state senator and former U.S. senator who has a history of working across lines of partisanship and ideology to get things done, Feingold has always been the antithesis of the political careerists who seek to turn Wisconsinites and Americans against one another.
Feingold still believes it is possible to find common ground in the struggle for a fair and equitable society, in the struggle to maintain a constitutional republic in which the rule of law is respected and essential rights and freedoms are protected, in the struggle to ensure that the legitimate desire for national security is not used as an excuse for more undeclared wars and wasteful spending.
Feingold is a throwback in many senses to the wise and self-sacrificing citizen legislators of the past. He has taught in our great universities and law schools, written well and wisely on foreign policy, and served as a U.S. special envoy to some of the most troubled places in the world. A lawyer who is widely recognized for his expertise in constitutional law, he could easily have chosen to continue a life of vital activity and notable accomplishment that did not require him to hit the campaign trail or to serve again in the Senate.
But Feingold has, since he grew up in Janesville, had a keen sense of duty. He believes in public service, in its purest form. And it is this belief that shapes his faith that our politics and our governance can be better than they have been in these recent years of division, obstruction and partisan gamesmanship.
Feingold’s foe in this 2016 U.S. Senate election, millionaire politician Ron Johnson, does not share that faith. He bought his way into politics with family money, and he has used his position to represent the interests of a millionaire class that includes Johnson’s candidate for the presidency: Donald Trump. Johnson is not merely a Trump backer; he mimics the cruelest and most misguided policies of his favorite in the presidential race.
Johnson embraces the win-at-any-cost politics of the worst players in both parties. He is always on the attack, always peddling paranoid fantasies about his rivals, always seeking to divide Wisconsinites and Americans against one another.
The Republican lawmaker shows little interest in using his powerful position to address inequality and injustice, as he is a man of immense wealth who is satisfied with a system that is rigged to favor men of immense wealth. His understanding of economics is so limited that, unlike more accomplished men and women who have succeeded on the basis of their ideas and their ability to innovate, he cannot imagine how to succeed if the deck is not stacked in his favor.
Johnson imagines campaigning with Trump as “the Ronald and the Donald” and that is appropriate: They are oligarchs who cannot see beyond their narrow self-interest and their narrow imaginations.
Feingold is different — not just from Trump and Johnson but from the vast majority of Republican and Democratic political careerists who have made a mess of things. He is an optimist who believes, as the best Wisconsinites always have, that Americans are not so different from one another. He sees those with whom he disagrees not as bad people, but rather as fellow citizens with whom he has an honest difference of opinion. During this campaign, he has gone out of his way to speak with groups that have not endorsed him, and he has assured them that, as a senator, he will go out of his way to represent them.
Feingold’s optimism has brought out the best in others. He is justifiably famous for having forged unprecedented coalitions during his years in the U.S. Senate. He got Arizona Sen. John McCain on board for campaign finance reform; he aligned with some of the most conservative members of Congress to defend civil liberties; and he brought farmers and consumers together to place proper limits on the excesses of agribusiness corporations.
Confident and informed, freed from corporate special-interest ties and the demands of petty partisanship, Feingold is able to serve the public interest. He opposes unnecessary wars and unconstitutional abuses of power and privacy. He recognizes the folly of trade deals that put workers and communities on a race to the bottom. He supports solutions that will make education affordable, invest in our communities, create jobs, protect our environment, and shape the sustainable economics of the future.
We endorse Russ Feingold as more than a candidate for the U.S. Senate. We endorse him as a candidate whose faith and vision make him the antithesis of the broken politics of this moment — and a catalyst for a more humane politics and governance that can forge a truly United States.
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