It's more than just experiencing a politician who can simultaneously think and talk, although such has sadly become a rare species. It's reveling in someone actually making sense, defending values and beliefs and challenging the basis of those of other pols, making and taking a non-mealymouth stand on multiple issues. It's what I want in a Democratic politician.

It's Russ Feingold. He was interviewed on Sunday's "Meet The Press" show and I half expected Tim Russert to close their get-together by asking if Feingold could appear every Sunday--that's how impressive the Senator from Wisconsin was. His coherent and cogent responses to Russert's probing was as impressive a display of inspirational eloquence as could be found in years.

I'm still a Brian Schweitzer backer (I'm waiting til 2007 to see what happens) but Feingold is right now my second choice. He will not have as much appeal in the Mountain West as Schweitzer but the contrast between George Bush's struggle to connect thoughts and sentences with Feingold's incisive articulation is transparent and striking. And that's the absolute key for the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee--to be someone who can viscerally connect with your average Joe and Josephine America. Al Gore and John Kerry failed miserably in coming anywhere close to Bill Clinton's oratory and his ability to annex himself to individuals. Feingold certainly isn't Clinton but he commands respect rather than caricature and ridicule.

Here some Feingold snippets from his appearance. See if you agree or disagree:

    MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi prime minister today, Senator, unveiled a national reconciliation plan. He calls on the Iraqi legislature to set a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops,

    SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, first, on the timeline, it appears to me that the American people understand it's time for a timeline to withdraw the troops from Iraq. The Iraqi people and the Iraqi government understand it. It seems like it's only here in Washington that people don't understand it's time to end this mistake, to end our military involvement there. And the votes in Washington don't show it, but the people in this country and the people of Iraq want us to stop it.

    MR. RUSSERT: As you know, General George Casey, the U.S. commander of ground troops in Iraq, met with President Bush and Pentagon leaders this week, and this is one of the news reports about his meetings. "The top U.S. commander in Iraq has drawn up plans that could lead to sharp reductions in American forces there as early as September and cut the number of combat brigades by nearly two-thirds by late 2007.

    SEN. FEINGOLD: Not only does it make sense, but it ­sort of shows that all this talk about a timetable being unreasonable or ridiculous is just wrong. Even General Casey is talking about how realistic it is to bring the troops home, and our timetable that we proposed last week had to do with bringing the troops home within one year. I mean, how is this different? And of course, the claim is, if you tell the terrorists that you're going to leave, that somehow they're going to be able to wait us out. Well, apparently General Casey and the administration is allowing us to tell them this.

    The fact is it is a public timetable, just of the kind that General Casey here is basically talking about, where everybody's going to know about it, is the best way to transition so that the Iraqis know what's going to happen, we know what's going to happen, the American people know what's going to happen. That is the way to have confidence in the process in Iraq and get us refocused on the broader fight against terrorism in those places in the world, Tim, where we're losing ground. We're losing ground in Afghanistan. We don't have enough resources in Indonesia and Malaysia area in this regard. We have lost ground in Somalia. And the fact is that Iraq is draining our strength. I think General Casey knows that. And this plan is very similar to the type of thing that Senator Kerry and I actually proposed in the United States Senate this week...

    MR. RUSSERT: The vice president, Cheney, weighed in on the debate. He offered these comments: "The worst possible thing we could do is what the Democrats are suggesting. And no matter how you carve it, you can call it anything you want, but basically it is packing it in, going home, and persuading and convincing and validating the theory that the Americans don't have the stomach for this fight."

    SEN. FEINGOLD: The worst thing we could possibly do is what Vice President Cheney and President Bush did, which was take us into an unnecessary war that had nothing to do with 9/11 on false pretenses. They have done the worst thing that's ever been done in this regard. The question is, do we just keep making the same mistake over and over again? Do we just stay in Iraq so that Cheney and Bush can say that, that they were right? That appears to be why we're there. That appears to be the only logical reason to stay in a situation that is draining our military, that is hurting our recruiting, that is allowing Osama bin Laden to have us exactly where he wants us...

    MR. RUSSERT: ...the campaign finance reform bill. John McCain, your partner in that effort, had this to say about the debate on, on Iraq: "When our country went to war, we incurred a moral duty to not abandon the people of Iraq to terrorists and killers. If we withdraw prematurely, risking all-out civil war, we will have done precisely that. I can hardly imagine that any U.S. senator would want our nation to suffer that moral stain."

    SEN. FEINGOLD: We have a moral responsibility to continue to be engaged in Iraq after our military mission is over. Our military mission should be over. I agree with John McCain. We need to support them economically. We need to help them militarily in terms of helping their military stand up, in terms of training. We need to make sure that we are engaged in that country and not abandon them. But I'll tell you our number one moral responsibility. Our number one moral responsibility is to protect the American people, to focus on those who attacked us on 9/11, to not be distracted into a situation where even the administration did not have Iraq as one of the 45 countries that was connected with al-Qaeda. Our number one responsibility is to protect the American people from being killed by terrorists. Iraq has very little to do with that at this point. Iraq is obviously the place where they're training people, but the idea of standing up and keeping a military involvement forever in Iraq will actually weaken the American people's ability to go after terrorists who, frankly, look like they're taking over Somalia right now.

    You know, Tim, today it was announced that, that a guy named Hassan Dahir Aweys is now the head of the government that has taken over in Mogadishu, in Somalia. He is on the State Department's terrorist list. He is known as an al-Qaeda operative or somebody that is connected with al-Qaeda. While we are asleep at the switch, while we are bagged­bogged down in, in Iraq, while we are all focused on Iraq as if it is the be-all and end-all of our American foreign policy, we are losing the battle to al-Qaeda because we're not paying attention. I asked Ambassador Crumpton at a hearing the other day, how many people in our federal government are working full time on the problem in Somalia. He said one full-time person. We spent $2 million dollars on Somalia in the last year, while we're spending $2 billion dollars a week on Iraq. This is insanity, if you think about what the priorities are in terms of those who have attacked us and who are likely to attack us in the future...

    MR. RUSSERT: You said some Democratic senators told you privately they felt intimidated to vote for the war. Why?

    SEN. FEINGOLD: They may not have used that exact word, but they certainly indicated that they felt that there was enormous political pressure. Because the White House has done a terrible job of running the fight against terrorism. A terrible job in Iraq, but they've done a brilliant job of intimidating Democrats. Somehow Democrats are afraid to say, "Look, not only was this a mistake, but it continues to be a mistake and it's being run in a mistaken way." And I cannot understand why the structure of the Democratic Party, the consultants that are here in Washington, constantly advise Democrats not to take a strong stand. This election could turn on this Iraq issue, in fact, the 2006 election, and maybe even 2008. The party that says we have a reasonable plan to bring the troops home by, by this date and to refocus on the anti-terrorism issue is the party that will win. And I believe that my political instincts tell me...

    MR. RUSSERT: But Senator, you only have 13 votes for your resolution.

    SEN. FEINGOLD: Yeah, that's not the American people. The 13 votes...

    MR. RUSSERT: But that's the Democratic Party.

    SEN. FEINGOLD: No, it's not.

    MR. RUSSERT: It's less than a third of those ­in the Senate.

    SEN. FEINGOLD: The Democratic Party of this country is the people of this country.(!!!!!!!) And I have been all over Wisconsin, all 72 counties, to 12 different states. I can tell you, the one thing I'm sure of, Tim, is the American people have had it with this intervention. They do want a timetable for bringing home the troops. And the fact that the United States Senate doesn't get it shouldn't surprise you.

    MR. RUSSERT: So the majority of the Democratic Senate is out of touch with the American people?

    SEN. FEINGOLD: Yes, it is at this point.

To read the entire interview, go here:


Originally posted to Cogitator on Tue Jun 27, 2006 at 11:51 AM PDT.

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