Voters should do more to demand that their elected representatives, regardless of which party they are in, demonstrate that they are willing to work with people on the other side of the political aisle to solve problems, former US Senator Russ Feingold told an audience at Eckstein Hall on Wednesday.
In an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session, Feingold certainly aired his own political views – he is co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign in Wisconsin. But he also called for new efforts to stem the impact of big donations on the political process and for a return at all political levels to times when officials cooperated more with people of differing views.
“It’s up to the people to change the dynamic,” Feingold said, responding to a question from an audience member about the highly partisan climate.. Right now, he said, many elected officials are “listening to anger” more than voices seeking cooperation. He suggested voters tell elected officials that if they cannot provide examples of how they worked with people of differing views at the end of a term, the voters won’t support them again.
Feingold said Republican leaders in Washington never gave Obama a chance as president to work across the aisle. He said key Republicans had dinner together on the day of Obama’s inauguration in 2009 and agreed, “We’re not going to let his guy get anything.” He said, “To me, this was off the charts. . . . It’s not a very good thing to do to the United States of America.”
Feingold spoke strongly to his signature political issue: Trying to limit large political contributions. He said it is not true that things have always been the way they are now, singling out the impact of the 2008 US Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United that allows corporations to make political donations. The worst impact, Feingold said, is not on elections but on “the purchasing of the policy process, of the legislative process.” He said, “There ‘s no such thing as a free $10 million contribution.”
Asked by Gousha, the Law School’s distinguished fellow in law and public policy, about Obama’s widely criticized performance in Wednesday’s debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Feingold acknowledged, “I think the president has had better performances in his career.” But he said a lot of what Romney said about the economy was “flim-flam.”
Feingold said, “I’m glad It wasn’t the best night ever (for Obama) because I don’t want Democrats to think this thing is won.” The race has always been close, he said, including in Wisconsin. “This can serve as a little wake-up call. . . . that this next month requires very hard work, and this basically is the gun shot that starts that key month.”
After losing the 2010 Senate race, Feingold was a visiting professor at Marquette Law School for two semesters. “I love this law school and I had an incredible two semesters here,” he said at the start of the session.
The Republican who defeated Feingold, Ron Johnson, will take part in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” session on Oct. 23. People may sign up for the free session by clicking here. The video of Feingold’s hour-long conversation may be viewed by clicking here.
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