Liberal Street Fighter

Dear Friends and Supporters,

On Sunday, November 12th in Racine, I will hold my 1000th Listening Session with the people of Wisconsin. Before reaching that milestone, I want you to know that I’ve decided to continue my role as Wisconsin’s Junior Senator in the U.S. Senate and not to seek the Democratic nomination for President in 2008.

With that statement, Senator Russ Feingold has left the field of putative Democratic hopefuls for the Presidential nomination. He has left the left in this country without a voice in the upcoming vital national conversation. As he himself notes in a story about his announcement in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:

Asked about the Democratic field, Feingold made it clear he preferred a nominee who shared his views on the war.

“The first choice would be somebody who voted against this unfortunate Iraq war. That may not be available,” said Feingold, who was the only Senate Democrat considering a run who voted against authorizing the use of force in Iraq.

“Second choice is somebody who at least said it was a bad idea. . . . I would be happy if Obama or (Al) Gore ran,” said Feingold, who said he was not offering an endorsement.

Clinton, the presumed party front-runner, voted in 2002 to authorize force in Iraq. “Those who were there and came to the judgment the Iraq war was a good idea have to answer for some concerns I have about their judgment. That was a really bad judgment. I’m prepared to support a Democrat who voted for that war, but I think the American people would prefer a president who had the judgment to see it was not a good idea,” he said.

In this party of cowards and millionaires beholden to the investor class, there seems little or no chance that anybody will fill this vacuum, at least not from within the party. There will be more deaths from this criminal war, there will be more children without a voice as they go without medical care, without adequate shelter or hope for a better tomorrow. It’s likely that a run by Senator Feingold wouldn’t have changed any of that, but at least the questions would have been raised on the national stage. Now they likely won’t, and one can’t help but wonder again if it’s far past time for the left to completely walk away from a party that is so broken that it is all-but impossible for a voice of reason like Senator Feingold’s to prevail.

This isn’t about just Senator Feingold. The constant need in this country for a hero to ride in to save us is a recipe for disaster. Look what happened to the left when Bobby Kennedy was killed … it all-but folded, breaking into balkinized little fiefdoms of activist groups, concerned as much with raising funds as with actually effecting change. The attraction of a run by the Senator wasn’t in HIM, but rather in his quiet, reserved willingness to acticulate for a vast untapped well of people who want this country to be better: a standard bearer, not a savior.

How many of us hear our voice reflected in the halls of government? How many of us feel the blood rushing through our heads whenever we’re subjected to a media that continually denigrates or distorts the left, a political conversation that has rendered our entire point-of-view out of bounds? There may now be a socialist in the US Senate, but the idea that we should take care of one another using government BEFORE we blow most of our resources killing people gets little or no play on the public stage.

A run for President by Senator Feingold could have helped change that. Tactically, it’s hard to argue with his decision, but strategically it’s sadly true that the desire for change, for this country to have a more civilized humane course, has NO way of injecting itself into our nations politics if someone doesn’t make the case on a stage that our worthless media will pay attention to. Senator Feingold states:

Yet, while I’ve certainly enjoyed the repeated comments or buttons saying, “Run Russ Run”, or “Russ in ’08”, I often felt that if a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese had taken the same positions I’ve taken, it would have elicited the same standing ovations. This is because the hunger for progressive change we feel is obviously not about me but about the desire for a genuinely different Democratic Party that is ready to begin to reverse the 25 years of growing extremism we have endured.

How can that hunger be sated without leaders to fight for that change? Maybe it’s not yet time. Maybe we have to sink further before people become desperate enough to open their minds beyond the mindless propaganda of our political parties and corporate owners. The left wasn’t truly able to inject itself into government until the Depression. This isn’t to say that anybody WANTS that to happen, but as we refuse to entertain a truly broad debate in this country, it is nearly impossible to rationally avoid the rocks that the captains of state are stearing us toward. As the middle class disappears, as our healthcare system melts down, as more blood and destruction spread at the point of our explosive spears, we on the left who might inject some compassion and reason into the deliberations are ruled out-of-bounds, so the long slide continues.

The left will continue to work locally, but with this announcement it’s painfully clear that it will be years before we have a chance to offer this country some choices other than greed, envy, division, hatred and fear. Americans can be a stubborn people, sheep-like, unwilling to slow down and consider that perhaps our flock is running in the wrong direction. Historically we’ve only corrected course after disaster.

It’s unclear whether the next Presidential contest is even worth paying attention to. Who will bear the left’s message forward? The candidates being bandied about; Vilsack, Biden, Clinton, Edwards … they’re a paltry lot. Some want to draft Vice President Gore, but is he any more likely to fight now than he was six years ago? The only national figure I can think of is one that was suggested by Molly Ivans:

Here’s what we do. We run Bill Moyers for president. I am serious as a stroke about this. It’s simple, cheap and effective, and it will move the entire spectrum of political discussion in this country. Moyers is the only public figure who can take the entire discussion and shove it toward moral clarity just by being there.

She suggested this some months ago, and for many of the same reasons I’ve explored here:

Do I think Bill Moyers can win the presidency? No, that seems like a very long shot to me. The nomination? No, that seems like a very long shot to me.

Then why run him? Think, imagine, if seven or eight other Democratic candidates, all beautifully coiffed and triangulated and carefully coached to say nothing that will offend anyone, stand on stage with Bill Moyers in front of cameras for a national debate … what would happen? Bill Moyers would win, would walk away with it, just because he doesn’t triangulate or calculate or trim or try to straddle the issues. Bill Moyers doesn’t have to endorse a constitutional amendment against flag burning or whatever wedge issue du jour Republicans have come up with. He is not afraid of being called “unpatriotic.” And besides, he is a wise and a kind man who knows how to talk on TV.

It won’t take much money—file for him in a couple of early primaries and just get him into the debates. Think about the potential Democratic candidates. Every single one of them needs spine, needs political courage. What Moyers can do is not only show them what it looks like and indeed what it is, but also how people respond to it. I’m damned if I want to go through another presidential primary with everyone trying to figure out who has the best chance to win instead of who’s right. I want to vote for somebody who’s good and brave and who should win.

National politics is lost to the left, and it will never open back up until years of local work are done, but a national run by a principled voice like Moyers could at least inject some of our ideas back into the contest. There is little or no left nationally, and with Senator Feingold’s announcement it has shrunk further. We’re in for long, dark days, for many years to come.

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