LUNCH WITH RUSS FEINGOLD
It was kind of last minute and ad hoc but today Russ Feingold invited half a dozen L.A. bloggers to come meet him at a restaurant and have lunch and ask him any questions on our minds. I know Russ' policy positions already and I've already given him a big thumbs up and even opened an ACT BLUE Page for his Progressive Patriots political action committee. So what I was looking for was a sense of the man. I got it.
He seemed sincere, committed, open-minded on the one hand while passionate about what he believes in most on the other. He didn't use any Beltway jargon; he seemed like a real straight shooter (unlike his pal McCain).
If you're a DWT regular, you are no doubt aware of how strongly I feel about the careerist politicians in the Democratic Inside-the-Beltway Establishment. If you're new to DWT I will just say that people like Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer seem like only a step or two ahead of Tom DeLay and Bill Frist on the evolutionary scale and almost as advanced as a duck-billed platypus. I didn't think Feingold would fit into that mold and I was relieved to see that he didn't. Not at all. In fact, he mentioned, when questioned about how Schumer and Emanuel conspired to destroy Paul Hackett's senatorial run in Ohio, that he took a meeting with Hackett and wrote him a substantial check to help him retire his campaign debt. Feingold seemed genuinely unhappy about how that whole mess came down and how it would reflect on a political party that is supposed to be different from the weak, ethicless, treacherous Republicans.
It was interesting that he thinks the crimes committed by Bush probably rise to the level of being "impeachable," but that he feels that the responsible thing to do at this point is to foster the idea of accountability through his very moderate censure resolution. And although he mentioned that several senators-- above and beyond public supporters like Harkin, Boxer and Kerry-- have told him privately that they would support him, it looks like a long, hard slog before this is going to get through the Senate. Long, hard slogs don't scare Russ Feingold and never have.
"This administration," he told us, "doesn't know how to govern the country. But they are brilliant at intimidating Democrats." Obviously, they don't intimidate him at all. He speaks his mind because he believes in his core values and principles. Voters sense that. When Kerry, whose public perception was wishy-washy and someone with a weak value-system, squeaked by to a 10,000 vote victory in Wisconsin, Feingold's far more progressive and outspoken positions garnered him a 300,000 vote victory, despite an avalanche of right-wing money pouring into the unfathomably filthy campaign against him. But it wasn't really about the policy positions per se. It was about the man and how he makes decisions and what he's made of.
I walked into today's meeting admiring Russ Feingold. I walked out feeling even more strongly that this is a real leader that the Democratic Party is lucky to have-- someone who isn't Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton, let alone Joe Lieberman. He may not be as glib and showy, but he's what a lot of us were once hoping Barack Obama would turn out to be.
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE: OTHER VIEWS
A couple of fellow-bloggers who also met with Feingold Saturday, Brad Friedman from BradBlog, Pam and Steve from SteveAudio and R.J. Eskow over at Huff Po have posted their perspectives on our meeting. Take a look.