Senator Russ Feingold being interviewed by Cenk Uygur (Host of The Young Turks & MSNBC Contributor/Guest Host
Cenk Uygur: Senator Russ Feingold now joining us on the Young Turks. Thank you so much for joining us we appreciate it as always Senator
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI): Great to be on the show, thank you.
Cenk: All right now you're in a bit of a tough election contest now in Wisconsin, which I'm a little surprised by against Ron Johnson, it appears. First, I think this is enormously important because you're obviously among the strongest progressives in the senate. I'm sure that he's going to attack you on that what's the strategy for fighting back on that?
Sen. Feingold: Well, I've never had a safe race. I've always had tough races 'cause I'm an independent and I take strong stands and I take a progressive stands. So people forget that but I this has been my history and I refuse to play it safe because I think my job is to represent the people of Wisconsin, fight for working families and so you know the challenge is real but it's a very doable thing to remind people that, and I voted against the trade agreements that sent the jobs overseas, and voted against all the Wall Street scams and bail outs. I voted against the reckless deficit spending of the Bush years, and so all the things that people know contributed to the mess we're in are the things that I opposed. Why would you put somebody into office who would have voted for all that stuff? So, you know, I think that's a battle that we not only can win but are beginning to win, but it is a very obviously a challenging year to be running.
Cenk: So, that's a, the second issue which I want to get to in a second, but Senator in Washington conventional wisdom is if you're a progressive you better hide it, right, and you better run from it.
Sen. Feingold: I'm from the progressive state. I'm from the great state of fighting Bob La Follette where the progressive movement really began, and where it's the strongest evidence exists over the years. So, that is part of our proud Wisconsin tradition I'm part of a direct decendant of a progressive party member, my father. In those days there wasn't even a democratic party, it was just the progressive party and the republican party. And, so, we wear our progressive identity with pride in Wisconsin and I am proud not only to be a democrat but to be specifically from the progressive tradition of Wisconsin is one of the things I'm most proud of.
Cenk: So do you think that if you win especially in a tough year like this, that you were just alluding to where democrats are having trouble all across the country, and you run on a strong progressive message as you just said? Does that sound, send a message to the rest of Washington hey maybe it's not such a bad idea to run on progressive ideas?
Sen. Feingold: You better believe it. All you gotta do is look back at two thousand four two thousand four. We had a disastrous election night, Kerry and Edwards lost. We went down to forty five democratic senators. That night when I was attacked for my vote against the Iraq war, and when I was attacked for voting against the patriot act. I won the state by three hundred thousand votes while Kerry won it by only ten thousand. I carried twenty seven counties that George Bush carried. It was the fact that I was independent, progressive and identified with working families of Wisconsin. So, being progressive is much better than being wishy-washy in many places in this country, and we underestimate the power of showing some principle and willingness to take tough stands.
Cenk: Right, and I think that the first part of that is just as important as the second part. Being strong as a politician has enormous intangible value no matter which direction you're going and in a state like Wisconsin obviously you say with a strong progressive tradition you combine the two things strong progressive then I think that that's a good way to go. Now I want to talk about a specific issue that's in
the news today because it directly relates to all the elections that's coming up. We have the issue of the tax cuts and should we extend Bush's tax cuts for the middle class? Should we extend them for the rich and specifically the issue is should you split the bill, so that you vote on both sides of that or should you keep the bill together and force the republicans to take a vote on you know the middle class tax cuts and whether they're for it or against it? Where do you stand on that Senator?
Sen. Feingold: Well, I'm for having both the substantive result that we should have and also making sure people have to go on record. So, my view is we should not be continuing the tax cuts for upper-income people. We can't afford it we couldn't afford it then, we can't afford it now. Those tax cuts clearly have not provided the job growth that they claim it will do so. Why would people argue that it should continue? The middle class tax cuts are something far more legitimate that working families in this country deserve and need at this point. So, I think we should put all these things up for a vote and I will stand firm for a policy of opposing the tax cuts for the very wealthy.
Cenk: Senator, politically speaking do you think that it would be a bad move by the President if he split the bill and let the republicans vote in favor of the middle class tax cut and then get to say hey democrats are raising your taxes by voting against the rich tax cuts?
Sen. Feingold: I'm for putting them in a situation where they can't have it all ways and get away with it, so, I would like to see, I'd like to see them have to vote on all of it.
Cenk: All right, that makes sense for me, to, it, from my perspective, so. We're talking to Senator Russ Feingold he's of course running for reelection and twenty ten in Wisconsin. So, now let's talk about your opponent a little bit. Ron Johnson says that he's not for a government subsidies except the ones he receives.
Sen. Feingold: That's right.
Cenk: Are you planning to take advantage of that seeming hypocrisy?
Sen. Feingold: Well sure, you know, it's so ridiculous that somebody gets out there and says literally says you can see in my current ad you can see on russfeingold.org or on the internet, he says that he would never ask for government help or government assistance, but that is exactly what his company's got. They got a federal government paid for the railroads, that connects their company to the railroad, and he simply refuses to acknowledge that or thank the taxpayers of the country. He also benefited from some four million dollars in revenue bonds that were part of a state government program that certainly subsidizes through lower interest rates. What he has, so, here's a guy condemning people like companies in his own town that are getting help from stimulus bill to create jobs when he's done it himself. So, his whole biography is a phony biography, based on the myth that somehow he built a business all by himself from the ground up, none of that is true.
Cenk: Right, you know Ann Richards used to say about George Bush, he was born on third base and thought he hit a triple. Looking at the bio of Ron Johnson it looks like he married onto third base and thought he hit a triple.
Sen. Feingold: I will not address that specifically, but the notion that he built this business from the ground up is a completely phony story.
Cenk: Are you guys going to debate in Wisconsin?
Sen. Feingold: Well, that's very interesting, that's the topic of the day. I said last week I agreed to six debates that have been offered across the state and he hemmed and hahhed. Even though he knew darn well he was going to win the primary, and today we find out that even though he said that he was going to get off the sidelines by running for the senate that he's still hiding. He refused to agree to the debate on Sunday night in Eau Claire that I was ready to do, and now he's saying he'll only do three debates. And this is really kind of sad because you know I think a person that people don't know at all, people didn't even know who he was a few months ago, has a particular responsibility.
Cenk: That's strange
Sen. Feingold: To come before the people of this state. This guy was a stealth nominee at the republican convention. Nobody knew him, now he's trying to become a stealth Senator. But, I'm not going to let him get away with that. People are catching on to this guy, it's a, it's all being done with mirrors. He refuses to even today at Concordia College in the Milwaukee area. The reporter was there to cover him, he wouldn't answer questions. He would just give the fluff and not do the follow-up and you know what people of this state deserve more from a Senator than that.
Cenk: Senator Feingold, that's really strange because you know the contest is close, so you know, you have to be enormously vigilant. The last poll I saw you were up by about two points so if he's trailing why would he not want to do debates? I mean is the idea hey if people don't find out what I stand for I'll have a better chance?
Sen. Feingold: They think that just using name-calling. Calling somebody a career politician is sufficient thing this year. So, what they want to do is hide the candidate. Not let people know that he's really an establishment republican, a country club republican, who's essentially masquerading as a tea party guy. So, they want the tea party support, they want republican support, they want people who are upset about the economy, but, of course, this guy is a huge advocate of shipping our jobs overseas through trade agreements that I've opposed and that he's for. Yeah so they're trying to do it through a stealth campaign. This is a national strategy trying to hide the candidate but you know people in my state are way too smart for this sort of game and they're seeing through it and they're getting pretty desperate because now they're running ads about things that they say I'm going to say about him. That's their latest thing. Today they've apparently figured out what I'm going to say in advance but you know they're just sort of flailing around and he's hiding and now the truth is out he isn't even willing to debate me like my other opponents have done in the past.
Cenk: Senator, if you do have the debates will you ask him over and over again to thank the taxpayers for the subsidies he's received?
Sen. Feingold: I think we should at least get a thank you note.
Cenk: Okay, fair enough, and then there's an issue about global warming. He apparently thinks that if you believe in man made man caused global warming to you're a lunatic?
Sen. Feingold: Yeah, he's said that people like me who believe that man has a role in global warming and climate change are crazy. He said that he has figured out that the reason for climate change is sunspots. He says and the worst thing though is apart from his pop science approach it goes against the great weight of scientific evidence. He says it would be quote a fools errand unquote to do anything about the climate change issue. I mean can you imagine having a Senator from the state of Wisconsin into what is Gaylord Nelson's seat, the father of Earth Day. That you would put somebody there who completely scoofs at our role of being responsible about climate change, it is that alone disqualifies him from the US Senate.
Cenk: Senator Feingold, I'm curious as to what strategy you are going to go with here in regards to Ron Johnson. Is that an issue that you know that you're going to focus on? Is the, you know, his subsidies from the state is that the issue?
Sen. Feingold: no, no,
Cenk: Which way are you going to go on this?
Sen. Feingold: I'm not focusing on Ron Johnson. You asked me a question about, you know, what's going on here. This isn't Ron Johnson. This is a national political movement that's trying to do this with mirrors by calling people names and not facing any issues and basically supporting the policies that lead us into this mess. It's a giant fraud and what I'm going to do is talk to people about the fact that I opposed those policies. That I have a good relationship with the people the state. That I go to every one of Wisconsin's seventy two counties every year and hold a town meeting. That I'm enormously independent, my voting record, probably the most independent member of the senate, but, I also am bipartisan I've been on more bipartisan initiatives than almost any member of the senate and so it's going to be about me and whether or not people want to keep working for them. But, when Johnson comes off the sidelines and actually shows his face once in a while we'll certainly deal with that, but basically he's hiding