Why Did Russ Feingold Not Speak At Wisconsin Capitol Union Rallies? Or Other National Democrats?

I would like to think that the power of conviction is still a real calling that drives our politicians.

During the first week of the massive outpouring of support for state workers and public employees I had a nice talk with Ed Garvey.  We both were inside the Capitol taking in the sights and sounds when I asked him when the national Democrats would get involved with the issue.

If ever there was anyone who walks the talk, and projects the progressive ideals it is Ed Garvey.   In spite of always looking energized and confident about the fight that needs to be waged, on that day he looked frustrated.  Garvey lamented the absence of more notable Democrats stepping up to defend unions in Wisconsin, even at that early stage.  He was very much in agreement that more of them needed to come to Wisconsin while standing arm-in-arm in the collective bargaining fight.

Garvey also said he had made a call to Mike Tate, Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair urging more party involvement.  That struck me as I also had called Tate and left a message that more needed to be done to get national Democrats to Wisconsin.  I made it clear this was clearly a partisan affair and all hands needed to be on deck.

Too many Democrats were happy to benefit from union campaign dollars, phone banks, and get-out-the-vote efforts, but when it came time to stand in front of 80,000 citizens in Madison there was a lack of national star-power from Washington.

How can that be?

The fact that there was such a vacuum has left a lot of folks, like myself, feeling unsettled.

Apart from the State Democratic Senators who are truly the “Fab 14”,  and the robust stylings of  Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and his fellow Democrats, there was a huge opening for national Democrats to enter.

While Jesse Jackson is a powerful moral voice, and Micheal Moore has the ability to command a crowd these are not the elected ones that make the Democratic Party tick.

Some protestors at the Capitol told me as I spoke with them to gain feedback that perhaps the grass-roots look of the rallies sent a more powerful voice.   That very well may be a valid point.  But I think something else was at play.

Knowing politicians could have had all the microphone time they wanted had they just showed up in Madison makes me think they were timid and leery about such a full-out battle over a union issue.

That makes me upset.

President Obama was mentioned on sign after protest sign these past four weeks for his absence.    I am trying to untangle my own feelings about his behavior, and wonder if he was gauging how this all meshes with 2012, or if the federal budget fight is too complicated to put yet another log on the fire by ramping up the issue of unions in a national discussion.

I think Obama should have rolled the dice and stood with those who had stood with him.  He should have been here this past Saturday to lend his voice to the message of Solidarity.  Obama should have help draw a line in the sand that there are some issues worth fighting for, even when the odds are thin.  ( I know, that is not ‘good politics’…..at least that is the conventional thinking.  I happen to think the fighting underdog who stands with the people is always a winner. )

From day one of the protests there was one person that I though very noticeably absent from the microphone at the Capitol.  That was our own Senator Russ Feingold who could have set the crowd afire. 

Feingold was a natural face for this fight. Feingold is a leader from Wisconsin who could have lifted the rhetoric in meaningful ways, and made those in the fight more battle ready for the recall efforts.  Feingold had the chance to be use his moral authority to speak to Walker and Company about the way things need to be done within the Wisconsin tradition.  Feingold remains the seasoned and principled player in Wisconsin politics, and was much needed, but failed to enter the arena.

Some would suggest that Obama or Feingold at the Capitol would take away from the main message about union rights, and allow for Republicans to make this fight about political personalities.    I would counter that the enormity of this issue, and the dreadful consequences of abolishing collective bargaining is such that it demanded all hands on deck.

Meanwhile Senator Herb Kohl walked for a few minutes in the Capitol crowd two weeks ago.  As is typical for Kohl it was less than meets the eye.  The following day I sent a note to Kohl expressing my displeasure at his lack of any robust statements on behalf of union workers.

By email I received a letter that made it seem I was not aware of how government functions.  Kohl let me know my concerns dealt with a state matter. 

Really?   I was aware of that.

Did my note to him sound like it came from a second-grader?  I was not amused.

I would like to think that what has happened in Wisconsin is of such magnitude that it might convince Kohl and other Democrats that speaking to the issue is something all should do even if they can not vote on it. 

I would like to think that politicians still have moral fiber that craves to be showcased when there is a need to speak out. 

Sadly what I got via email from Kohl I suspect sums up the national Democratic Party.

And this is pretty sad.

Public workers deserve fair treatment and their interests should have been taken into consideration.  I’m concerned about the well-being of their families and had hoped that these matters be settled in a respectful and balanced way.  However, Governor Walker’s budget bill is a state, rather than a federal matter, and will not come before the United States Senate.  As such, I have no official role.

12 thoughts on “Why Did Russ Feingold Not Speak At Wisconsin Capitol Union Rallies? Or Other National Democrats?

  1. Andrew

    The Democrats haven’t done anything really for unions and labor over the last 30-35 years besides take their money. This is obviously not really a state issue, but a broad right-wing issue to win further elections for the republicans at all levels. Why come to the unions rescue now, when they’ve been letting them die for decades? Thank God for our State Dems though. They have should courage and true representation, which is really seen at the federal level.

  2. You’re arguing that there is TOO MUCH Grassroots in evidence? TOO MANY un-famous, people acting as impromptu spokespersons? We need more blowhard Media Stars and less focus on people who are literally your neighbor?
    Jesse Jackson and Michael Moore have enormous personas that follow them around like baggage and elicits knee-jerk responses from all kinds of people. Obama, if he showed up and made it about HIM I’d be so disgusted. And come on, why was Democrat turn out low anyways, after that huge energized “Yes We Can ” wave? Obama can’t put his “taint” on everyone out there, that would be Business As Usual and B.A.U. has gotten us HERE. Doing more of the same and expecting that to produce different results is insane, right? The usual suspects and usual methods ARE NOT WORKING. More attention on those people who have been an integral part of the process and part of the problem is not a good thing. Take it all away from The Little Guy and make it once again about some Big guy just because he is supposedly “on our side”?
    It’s not about those guys, all those people you think will be so helpful – their lives and well-beings are not hanging in the balance. Either way, they will all be fine. Obama can lose, he’ll still be stinkin’ rich and REALLY influential. He’ll never NOT have a voice. This not about him.
    It is about all the Walker voters who changed their minds, the stay-at-homes, the previously un-engaged, Independents, and on and on. It’s about us Unglamorous Slobs. It is not about glittering stars like Obama, or Jackson, or Moore.
    The overwhelming and inappropriate influence of distant and powerful Giants like the Kochs got us into this mess. Leave the distant Giants out of this.
    At what point does Wisconsin business ever get back to being about Wisconsin people and NOT what Sarah Palin said, what some Texan thinks, or what these global think tanks plan, or all about who ever is lusting after the next presidential run?
    Every aspect of our political life has been co-opted and scripted by distant and shadowy “celebrities”. No one should mourn this 3 week ascendancy of the Little Guy.

    It won’t last, so console yourself with that.
    The microphone will be handed back to Morning Joe, and Plumber Joe and Malkin and Rush and Beck and Obama and Moore and Sarandon soon enough.
    It’s been great to see the bricklayer and the nurse standing in jeans and wrapped in gravitas and even the spirit of statesmanship.
    btw – Russ is way to smart to steal anyone’s well-deserved moment. Knowing I’m sure, that Fox news would immediately negate all the hardworking ‘sconnies efforts, and cast the entire affair as Feingold’s Sour Grapes. And knowing, I’m sure, that he could not do better, or more, than these people have.

    Got Slobs?

  3. dave

    Maybe Herb Kohl is too busy avoiding constituents to participate. i’ve been wondering what he’s been doing during all this. The national Dems are a joke. Don’t rely upon politicians to help citizens. The system is too broken to fix, it appears, and the lack of national Dems at these rallies is testimony to their weakness and pussification.

    One has to hand it to the repigs, they sure appear to be tougher than the democants.

    Oh well, back to American Idol(atry)…..

  4. Sue

    Much has been revealed about our national democratic leadership across the country recently. It’s not just the Republicans who’ve revealed their true selves. The many states under siege right now, with energized citizens actually getting behind a legitimate, grass roots issue, would seem to make it an attractive fight for the national Dems.
    I called the White House a couple of weeks ago and politely noted that I would like to see more recognition of the Wisconsin fight from our President, but I did not expect anything, because I have contacted him on other issues in the past to no avail. What reason does he have to step forward? What are Dems going to do, primary him? What are voters going to do, put in a protest vote for Sarah or Newt or any one of the frights the Tea Party primary voters will put up for election?
    Because there is a constant fight going on among liberals regarding how much/how little Obama has done to move various things forward, it’s probably best not to expend too much energy on this when the ground level fight takes so much effort, and when people seem to be organizing quite well without the nationals.
    Because of the support of State Democratic lawmakers and lack of support by the national Dems, I self-identify at a state level as a Democrat, but at a national level as an Independent and I don’t think I’m alone.
    And Russ Feingold can have my donation for his PAC when he comes out of the gate on this.

  5. JimL

    I’m more disturbed that it is being portrayed as a Dem v. Rep issue than the fact that Democrats haven’t done enough.
    First and foremost it is a Citizens movement against elected mis-representation.
    We have a chance to elect the candidate that offers to represent people rather than party line and/or highest bidder.
    We also must participate in reminding Our Congress, Our Governor and Our Supreme Court who they work for, us.

  6. Barnaby

    For Kohl to stand on the sidelines and not is disgusting. To say that this is a state issue and not something that he should be involved in is incredible, and tragic. Kohl is the most senior elected democrat in the State. He clearly lacks the moral fiber to help lead when needed. He is worthless. Time to find a better democratic leader to represent us.

  7. mark

    In some ways the affirmation of a national democratic office holder attending and participating in the Madison demonstrations would have been dramatic; but as we move forward and learn to find our voices; we speak with no less determination, no less fortitude , no less solidarity than any “high visibility” attendee.

    We the people, of Wisconsin, have begun to realize how much power we really do have. Our Leaders come from within our ranks, many in spirit, but speaking with one voice.

    The future for Wisconsin comes from the “natural resources” from within our great State, not by importing national politicians, who apparently do not empathize with us.

  8. Cory

    You need to do your homework. First of all, Feingold was at one of the rallies downtown walking with Leo Gerard and radio host Sly, both key players in the fight for workers. Second, the AFL-CIO was the major player in terms of who was going to speak at the rallies. They did NOT want politicians other than those state Senators and assemblymen directly involved with the vote. They wanted to feature working people, not politicians. Third, Russ Feingold is as principled as they come when it comes to labor. I am confident that he would have been speaking everyday if the AFL-CIO had asked. I trust his judgment and that of labor leaders much more than yours.

  9. Cory,

    Thanks for you comment. I do appreciate the feedback.

    First and foremost Sly is not a Democratic leader. He is a radio blowhard and a jackass. And I am being kind. He gets no breaks here on CP for his antics.

    Now to Russ, who I very much admire. I walked with him in my hometown of Hancock….same street as top of this blog.

    My post ask why Russ did not ‘speak’ at a rally and put himself in front of the crowd in a visable way. Walking with firefighers if I recall, does not address what I wanted from him or other national democratic leaders. I wanted them to take the stand and loudly state the case for all to hear. They are the ones, after all, that know how to make the political sales pitch.

    In the end Russ did no more than Herb Kohl.

    I want more from from my leaders. You should too.

    You do not have to trust me. I never ask you to do that.

    But I was at the Capitol almost everyday and know that many were asking the same questions as I was.

    Where were the national Democrats? Where was Russ?

    We all can have respect for Russ, but should be able to address a shortcoming too.

  10. Ryan

    I strongly suspect that if Feingold wanted to have a place in front of the microphone, he could have had it. I also suspect that the reason he chose not to speak to the public at the rally was for his future political considerations. I am a Democrat, but I still have to ask, is that leadership?

    I have no words for Herb Kohl.

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