For reasons of policy and character, Wisconsin voters should re-elect Sen. Russ Feingold.
In an ideal world, Wisconsinites would get honest dialogue on the important issues facing the country, including the resolution of two bloody foreign wars, the future of U.S. diplomacy, the tens of millions of Americans who still lack health care, the environmental crisis which threatens basic tenets of our existence, as well as the future of entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, our schools and universities, and the U.S. economy.
Like in most other races across the country, voters whose understanding of the election was shaped by TV ads and stump speeches got very little of the above -- especially if they were listening to the Republican candidate, Ron Johnson. The Oshkosh businessman's campaign is premised almost entirely on the notion that his experience in the private sector uniquely qualifies him to save the United States from impending fiscal crisis and create jobs. This contrived narrative has come at the expense of issues that actually matter, including foreign policy, which is entirely absent from Johnson's campaign website, save a vow to not "endanger" our troops with premature withdrawal.
If Johnson's lack of depth was not alarming enough, the views he actually makes public are rather disturbing.
He prefers to believe that the vast majority of scientists are either pathetically clueless or conspiring to mislead the American public when they repeatedly warn of the threat of manmade climate change. He is against federally-funded embryonic stem cell research, which holds great potential for life-saving cures and offers the U.S. and Wisconsin opportunity to retain our edge in medical innovation.
Moreover, his only plan for reducing the deficit has been repeal of the health care bill, a move which, according to CBO estimates, would likely cost more money than it would save.
And of course, he would be a reliable vote against abortion rights and gay rights.
Johnson has given no indication that he would be anything but a lackey for the Republican leadership in Washington. He has given no indication that he would not be a terrible senator.
The contrast between Johnson and his opponent could not be greater. Very little about Feingold's career has been generic. His tenure in the Senate has been marked by significant acts of independence and intellectual courage, often in repudiation of his party and the polls.
Feingold's appreciation and knowledge of the law -- which Johnson repeatedly mocks by attacking the number of lawyers in the Senate -- has made him one of the most prominent defenders of the U.S. Constitution and civil liberties in Congress. In 1999, he was the only Senate Democrat to vote against a motion to dismiss impeachment charges against then-President Clinton, because he correctly noted that the House's constitutional prerogative to send the case to trial should be respected.
Two and a half years later, he was the only member of the U.S. Senate to stand up in the face of the paranoia and hysteria the 9/11 attacks wrought and vote against the Patriot Act, citing concerns over basic civil liberties.
In the face of the same fear-mongering, he voted against authorizing military force in Iraq, correctly noting that that country did not pose an imminent threat to U.S. national security. Throughout the bungled prosecution of that bloody mess, Feingold never let the Bush administration off the hook, and was a prominent voice against torture and other constitutional violations that Republicans and some Democrats decided didn't matter. Significantly, Feingold was one of the few voices on Capitol Hill who warned of the danger that terrorism in other parts of the world posed, and how the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were motivating it.
Feingold's pressure on the White House did not cease with the arrival of a new administration. He has been an outspoken critic of President Obama's management of the occupation of Afghanistan, if one can even refer to the chaos in that country as "occupation" anymore.
His understanding of justice and equality guided him to be one of the first U.S. Senators to unequivocally support the right of gays and lesbians to marry. He took this position in the face of a wave of cynical GOP-sponsored referenda which sought to exploit older generations' prejudice and mistrust of homosexuals for political gain. Feingold stood up to hate, even when many other Midwestern Democrats cowered behind equivocations or avoided the issue completely.
Feingold has consistently voted to uphold and fund strong public institutions, such as Social Security, public schools and public universities. To this end, he has defended a progressive system of taxes which makes the wealthiest pick up their share of the tax burden -- a notion that makes sense to most Americans but has been under attack since the Reagan era. Returning the tax rate to its Clinton-era level would be good policy and would be one of the most fair and least painful ways to reduce the deficit.
Moreover, Feingold's support for the stimulus bill last year also demonstrated a commitment to public institutions, especially on the state level, where, if not for the stimulus, cash-strapped local governments would have had to endure draconian cuts in services, including education, public safety and infrastructure.
During the campaign, amidst so much successful misinformation on the health care bill which will extend coverage to millions of Americans, Feingold has stood by his position that every American deserves access to healthcare. Moreover, he supported the public option, a plan that was disgracefully killed by hypocritical opportunists such as Sens. Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson, and whose demise will unfortunately keep insurance firmly in the control of big businesses, who will continue to gouge consumers.
The best part about Feingold is that he has never had any problem explaining any of this. Take a look at his website. Pick an issue. Compare the lengthy discussions of policy that he provides voters with the sappy -- and often nonsensical --