Russ Feingold should run against Obama (and Palin)

Alexander Cockburn: The US needs a mutiny. And the senator from Wisconsin is the man to lead it

Column LAST UPDATED AT 11:31 ON Thu 18 Nov 2010
Alexander Cockburn

So much for 2010 as the year of mutiny, when the American people rose up and said, "Enough! Throw the bums out!" As the dust finally clears after the midterm elections, and the bodies are hauled from the field of battle, guess what? It was all so predictable. The safest thing to be in 2010 was an incumbent.

Out of 435 seats, 351 incumbents will be returning to the House in January. In the Senate, out of 100 seats, 77 incumbents will return in January. As the libertarian Joel Hirschorn puts it, "Welcome back to the reality of America's delusional democracy where career politicians will continue to foster a corrupt, inefficient and dysfunctional government because that is what the two-party plutocracy and its supporters want for their own selfish reasons."

Now it's on to 2012, through a largely familiar political landscape, right down to Sarah Palin telling ABC TV and the New York Times that yes, she might just go all the way and run for the Republican presidential nomination.

It's the only ray of sunshine currently available to Barack Obama, now seemingly mesmerised by the verdict of the press - that the people have spoken and the President must "move to the centre". Onto the butcher block must go entitlements - Medicare, Social Security. The sky darkens with vultures eager to pick the people's bones.
As Obama reviews his options, which way will he head? He's already supplied the answer. He'll try to broker deals to reach "common ground" with the Republicans, the strategy that destroyed those first two years of opportunity.
What do the next two years hold? Already there are desperate urgings from progressives for Obama to hold the line. Already there are the omens of a steady stream of concessions by Obama to the right.

There's hardly any countervailing pressure for him to do otherwise. The president has no fixed principles of political economy, and who is at his elbow in the White House? Not the Labour Secretary, Hilda Solis. Not that splendid radical Elizabeth Warren, whose Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the Republicans are already scheduling for destruction. Next to Obama is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the bankers' lapdog, whom the president holds in high esteem.
In the months ahead, as Obama parleys amiably with the right on budgetary discipline and deficit reduction, the anger of the progressive left will mount. At some point a champion of the left will step forward to challenge him in the primaries. This futile charade will expire at the 2012 Democratic National Convention amid the rallying cry of "unity".

But the White House deserves the menace of a convincing threat now, not some desperate intra-Democratic Party challenge late next year by Michael Moore or, yet again, Dennis Kucinich.

There is a champion of the left with sound appeal to the sane populist right. He was felled on November 2, running for a fourth term as US senator and defeated by a Republican. He should rise again before his reputation fades. His name is Russ Feingold, currently a Democrat and until the present Congress expires in January, the junior senator from Wisconsin.

I counsel him to decline any job proffered by the Obama administration and not to consider running as a challenger inside the Democratic Party. I urge him, not too long after he leaves the Senate, to spread the word that he's considering a presidential run as an independent; then, not too far into 2011, to embark on such a course.

Why would Russell Feingold run? Unlike Teddy Kennedy challenging Jimmy Carter in 1979, Feingold would have a swift answer. To fight against the Republicans and the White House in defence of the causes he has publicly supported across a lifetime.

He has opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His was the single Senate vote against the Patriot Act. His was a consistent vote against the constitutional abuses of both the Bush and Obama administrations.

He opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and the bank bailouts. He is for economic justice and full employment and thus a champion the labour movement could support, as opposed to Obama, who triumphed in 2008 courtesy of union money and grassroots organising and who has kicked labour in the teeth ever since.

Feingold is the implacable foe of corporate control of the electoral process. The Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in January was aimed in part at his landmark campaign finance reform bill.

A Wisconsin voter wrote to me in the wake of the election, "Feingold likely lost because his opponent's ads, including billboards with pictures of him and Obama, as well as TV and radio ads, and last-minute phone bursts, convinced many voters that he has been a party-line Democratic insider all these years."

What an irony! Feingold has always been of an independent cast of mind, and it surely would not be a trauma for him to bolt the party. Ralph Nader, having rendered his remarkable service to the country, having endured torrents of undeserved abuse from progressives, should hand the torch to Feingold as a worthy heir to that great hero of Wisconsin, Robert La Follette, who ran as an independent for the presidency nearly a century ago.

The left must abandon the doomed ritual of squeaking timid reproaches to Obama, only to have the counselors at Obama's elbow contemptuously dismiss them, as did Rahm Emanuel, who correctly divined their near-zero capacity for effective challenge.

Two more years, then four more years, of the same downward slide, courtesy of bipartisanship and "working together"? No way. Enough of dreary predictability. Let's have a real mutiny. Run, Russ, Run! · 

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