Liberals and the legend of Feingold

''Thanks Russ'' window in Madison

This empty Madison storefront was also a Kerry campaign office in 2004. Coincidence?

I spent four days in Madison over Thanksgiving break and learned two important things. First, my happiness at being back in my favorite city is only strong enough to survive one day of single-digit wind chills. And second, the development of the Legend of Russ Feingold is already well underway. All along State St., the “Feingold ’10” stickers have been permanently and prominently affixed behind store counters, while local talk radio has turned its ire to the “they” that populates the rest of the state (to be fair, this is also true in discussions of Gov.-elect Scott Walker’s plan to cancel a Milwaukee-Madison Amtrak route). No one I talked to was very receptive to the idea that Feingold shot himself in the foot by filibustering the financial reform bill, even though the result of his action was to weaken the bill so that Scott Brown would become the 60th vote.

This was all at the top of my mind when I read Dahlia Lithwick’s piece on the search for the new Feingold. The way Feingold supporters come across in the piece you’d think he was dead, because the last time liberals went looking for the “next” somebody it was Paul Wellstone. Ironically, the person most self-consciously working to uphold Wellstone’s legend — Al Franken — is suggested as a potential next Feingold as well, but dismissed by “civil libertarians” for his votes in favor of warrantless wiretapping. But then, he also voted for the financial reform bill, so maybe it’s a wash. But I suspect for liberals of a certain stripe, the lesson of Feingold’s defeat will be retrenchment. This is admittedly a bit of nutpicking, but these FireDogLake comments suggest that even Feingold saying “no” to a 2012 primary challenge isn’t enough to turn some minds from it.

Of course, since he’s not dead and not running for president in 2012, it’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here. It’s probably not a 2016 run — his window was 2008, when liberals might’ve gone big for him, if the Daily Kos straw poll is any evidence. Trying to get back to the Senate in 2012 if Herb Kohl retires? Challenging Walker in 2014? I’ve always felt that Feingold has an executive style about him, but I just don’t know if electoral politics is the place for him anymore. Facing a tough environment and a likely Republican wave, he pulled punches (when he punched at all); the campaign environment’s not going to be much more pleasant in the next couple cycles.

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