Senator Feingold on Civility

Last week in honor of ABA Mediation Week, the DR Society here hosted former Senator Russell Feingold for a talk on Civility in Public Discourse. We had a wonderful off-the-record hour (so I can’t tell you all the good stories!–here is me cracking up at one) but what I can say is heartening in terms of supporting our students. Feingold noted that the most persuasive negotiators in the Senate were those who were passionate and had conviction and would also know when to work out a deal. You could trust that they would keep their word. When I asked him about the “argument culture” that seems to pervade Washington, Senator Feingold urged our students to fight against this mentality–stay civil, be humble, keep your word. In reflecting about his long-term interactions with Senator McCain on the campaign finance reform bill, Senator Feingold pointed out that these cross-cutting relationships are crucial–after all, you don’t need to make a deal with those who already agree with you. Over his 18 years in the Senate, he noted how the atmosphere had changed where a senator was part of a joint enterprise with an honored history and esprit de corps–these days politicians get elected by running against the idea that you need to work together. In focusing on Wisconsin–which has been an incredible battleground in the last year over labor rights, the Supreme Court, and other issues–I will note at least two state senators that seem to be taking a page from Senators Feingold and McCain. Dubbed the Common Ground tour, these two senators are touring their respective districts stumping for common issues.  (For more on the Common Ground tour and to hear directly from these state senators, you can click here to watch our own Mike Gousha interviewing them as part of Marquette’s “On the Issues” series.)

Cross posted at Indisputably.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ashley Butler

    It is refreshing to hear a former member of the Senate speaking on the importance of civility, keeping your word, and cross-party relationships. The negative media surrounding Congress paints a bleak picture of the interworking of both the Senate and the House. Senator Feingold’s statement, “you don’t need to make a deal with those who already agree with you” seems obvious but in practice people have a tendency to group together with only those who agree with them and point fingers to the “unreasonable” other side. I hope Senator Feingold’s views represent the majority of members of Congress because effective negotiation is a key to successful U.S. policy and laws.

  2. Kristina Minor

    First I have to say that it was inspiring to hear Senator Feingold speak so passionately about preserving integrity in practice, in the Senate, etc. He took a stand on an issue knowing that he would probably lose his next election because of it. And regardless of whether I agree with his political stance, I think the fact that he was willing to sacrifice his job in order to remain loyal to what he stands for is admirable. And to comment on negotiation in general, I think it is entirely possible for people to preserve their integrity and negotiate at the same time. It is easy to get caught up with red positions versus blue positions, or right versus left, or whatever, but what about those “underlying interests” (to steal a phrase from class). There is no way that each person’s interests are completely opposed to everyone else’s; there has to be some overlap, some middle ground. So take a stand for whatever it is that you want or believe in, yet be open to creative solutions–“expand the pie.”

  3. Megan Zabkowicz

    Losing former Senator Feingold as a representative from Wisconsin was a devastating blow to anyone who had hopes for a political culture in which parties worked together to achieve progress. The current national and state culture is so angry and so polarized, and politicians seem entirely too focused on “winning” and satisfying their own constituency group. Politicians are also so determined to show just how “wrong” the other side is, instead of working WITH the other side to foster growth and progress. I agree with Feingold’s statements that the next generation needs to let go of this “argument culture” to work together towards solving some of the massive economic and political problems we are facing. It is scary, though, because both locally and nationally it seems as though our country is moving very far from any type of civil discourse. Politicians who do try to bridge the gap or concede certain issues in order to come to mutually agreed upon solutions are seen as weak or not committed to their bases. We need to abandon these hard-line approaches to political discourse in an effort to bring civility back to the table.

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