The Last Temptation of Russ Feingold.

Oh, poor Russ Feingold.  He must be so sorely, sorely tempted to run: “Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold’s departure from the State Department has political experts predicting a highly contested rematch of the 2010 race in which the Madison-area senator was defeated.” Russ Feingold, of course, lost to Ron Johnson in that race; and as [mc_name name=’Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’J000293′ ] is at the top of most people’s Senators Most At-Risk lists it makes a good deal of sense that Feingold might want a rematch. I can’t imagine that losing in 2010 made Feingold feel good about himself, after all.  The man had (still has, I suppose) a carefully-constructed mental vision of himself as being a Servant of the People: that the People took the opportunity to remove him from service very probably eats at Mr. Feingold.  At least a little.

But there’s a solution, right? Russ Feingold runs for office again, beats Ron Johnson, and goes back to his old life.  And then everything will be good again and there will be pie.  No problems there, no problems at all… well. There’s a small problem.

Feingold frustrated many Democrats during his last campaign when he blocked the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from spending money on TV ads in his race, and the architect of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations also declined to authorize the creation of a super PAC to work on his behalf. (The concept of super PACs had been made legal only earlier that year.)…

…but it’s a problem that can be whisked away in a moment.  As if it was never there. You just have to be practical about things:

…Democrats are hopeful that, in 2016, Feingold will yield to third-party efforts.

“Listen, he’s a smart guy,” said one Democratic insider, who wouldn’t speak candidly about campaign strategy without anonymity. “He understands in this post-Citizens, post-McCutcheonworld, he can’t fight with one hand tied behind his back.”

Let me translate that last bit for you: in DC-speak, “Listen, he’s a smart guy” means We can break this obdurate fool on the wheel, and he knows it. In this particular case, well, Russ Feingold’s dangerously-wrong, yet politically advantageous* opinions on free speech were acceptable as long as he was safe in his seat, and could be expected to be a solid D vote.  But that’s not what’s happening here, is it?  If Russ Feingold wants to win his seat back, he’s going to have to use the tools at his disposal.  That, essentially, means money. Lots of money. Lots of money from sources that Russ Feingold once tried to** keep out of politics. He has no choice here.

…Well, that’s not entirely true. Russ Feingold could in fact act as if the rules set forth in McCain-Feingold were still in place and governing his campaign. I mean, nothing says that he has to take advantage of the new environment. Of course, his people would then start screaming at him – particularly the ones sent over from the national Democratic organization to help with Feingold’s supposedly rosy political prospects.  Which would suddenly become a lot less rosy if he doesn’t start playing ball, you know what I mean?

And thus we have the Last Temptation of Russ Feingold.  If he runs – and he probably will – Mr. Feingold will have to choose between sticking to his past principles, and running from them.  If he picks the former, he will lose: partially because national Democrats will abandon him as a fool, but largely because said principles are both stupid, and frankly undemocratic in the small-d sense of the word***. But if Russ Feingold runs from his past stance… then thanks, Russ Feingold.  I’ve always said that limiting free speech was a idiotic idea; it’s nice that one of the architects of McCain-Feingold admitted it, in the end.

(Image via Shutterstock)

Moe Lane (crosspost)

PS: Note: Ron Johnson can lose this election. I’m not saying that. What I am saying is that the Russ Feingold held up by progressives as a shining beacon of hope and integrity cannot win this election.  The Russ Feingold that could win this election is just another career politician who says pretty things when the cameras are running, and who acts brave and principled when there’s no risk to it. I wonder which one we’ll see?

*If the First Amendment was intended for anything, it was intended to give as much protection as possible to the free expression of political speech.  The Democrats know this perfectly well; they also know that a complex and unworkable law would allow them to do all sorts of useful partisan mischief.

**And miserably failed at, let’s not forget.

***Obviously, they’re certainly Democratic in the large-D sense.