Monday, November 21, 2005

Down on Warner and Feingold

I read two articles on Presidential candidates today, both of which left me softer on the candidates than I was going in.

Starting with Virginia Governor Mark Warner. It's always impressive for a Democrat to win statewide in Virginia, all the more so when he can use his coattails to bring another Democrat in his place. And certainly, Warner does seem to be generating a fair bit of enthusiasm amongst the young campaign worker set. However, in reading this article, I couldn't help thinking he sounded very standard politician--just saying what audiences wanted to hear. No risks, no willingness to take a stand. Consider this passage:
Warner often prefaces remarks by warning that he's "about to say something a lot of people might not agree with." He does this in his speech to the Harvard Democrats. As listeners brace for something controversial, Warner comes forth with the familiar refrain that Democrats can't compete in only 16 states in presidential elections. When a student follows up by asking what individual states Democrats should compete in, Warner pauses, stares at a spot on the ceiling for a few pregnant seconds before answering, finally:

"The South," he says, then mentions some "opportunities in the Midwest."

Wow...I can see the savage netroots crowd ripping him apart over that one. Warner has proven voter appeal, and that counts for something. But I just don't know if he has enough independent thought behind those buck-teeth of his to be worthy of our support. At least one blogger read the article and still is putting him as his top 2008 choice, so maybe I'm an anomaly.

Meanwhile, I finally read TNR's "Hillary-slayer" article about Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. Feingold is in some ways the exact opposite of Warner. Quirky, independent, willing to buck the party line when his principles call for it. And I respect that. A lot. Feingold is in many ways a breath of fresh air, and he has a lot of good accomplishments to his name that warrant a close look at his candidacy. Many politicians claim to be independent thinkers. With Feingold, there's no way to deny it. Like Dean, Feingold draws most of his support from the left wing anti-war crowd, and, also like Dean, Feingold is no where near as liberal as his supporters might be led to believe. Of course (again, like Dean), given the state of the political media, nobody will know that no matter how deep Feingold goes in the primaries. But I know it, and that appealing blend of progressive and principled is a sight for sore eyes here.

The problem is that in the area where we most need someone who's willing to buckle down and do the right thing, political finger-waving be damned, Feingold's on the wrong side. He has a long and consistent record of opposition to American humanitarian interventions--even in the midst of ongoing or imminent genocide.
Feingold has long harbored wariness about U.S. military action. When Republicans forced a 1995 Senate vote to cut off funding for U.S. military forces in Bosnia, for instance, he was the sole Democrat to join 21 conservatives in support of the resolution. As other Democrats waxed idealistic about human rights, Feingold fretted about Vietnam parallels and worried that "our attempting to police the world threatens our own national security." By 1997, he was fighting to cut off funding for military operations in Bosnia and to begin an early withdrawal of U.S. forces. "What they haven't done is define a concrete exit strategy for our American troops," he said at the time. "This administration needs to sit down and work with Congress to map out a specific schedule for bringing our troops home, or they will be there for a very, very long time." Likewise, Feingold cast just one of three Democratic 'no' votes against the 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign. "It's a compelling notion that the American government has an obligation to stop brutality and genocide. I can't dispute that," he told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in March of 1999. "But how can we be acting in Bosnia and Kosovo and not Rwanda, or Sudan, or East Timor, or even Tibet?"

So people of Darfur (or their inevitable heirs elsewhere in the globe) will be free to die no matter how brutal the atrocities get. I'm probably one of the few pro-war liberals for whom Feingold's anti-war stance is not too bothersome. But this crosses the line. I don't think I can bring myself to vote for someone who would have abandoned Kosovar Albanians to Slobodan Milosivic's murderous hordes.

I'm heading to Rhode Island for Thanksgiving. The computer, alas, is not. So this blog will be off from Tuesday afternoon until my return on Friday afternoon. See you then!


jack said...

Initially I had the same reaction to that part of the article. And that is my major concern with Feingold. But David, did you even read the whole quote? "But how can we be acting in Bosnia and Kosovo and not Rwanda, or Sudan, or East Timor, or even Tibet?"
The fact that he's gutsy enough to point that out is impressive, especially considering the racial implications behind that statement (which I think are real). Moreover, the statement shows a concern for human rights that most don't show even if he rejects military intervention as the way to stop them. I wish he was more hawkish, but that doesn't mean he's not good on the issue.

Check his record, besides the military intervention he's about all we could ask for on HR- the guy has been on top of the issue for years. Given that US relations with the rest of the world are close to dead at this point I think the next 4-8 years would be better served by addressing HR issues multilaterally, economically and politically. Frankly, we CAN'T DO humanitarian interventions anymore. We don't have a military left to do it. Feingold would give us a foreign policy that actually cares about human rights: even if he doesn't go to war over it.

He was the lone 'No' vote on the U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T Act and guess what: he voted for the Coburn Amendment- the guy actually has fiscal responsibility cred.

I need to see him speak but so far I like what I hear- if the wasn't obvious from the tone of the this post: I'm excited.

Anonymous said...

I can only echo Jack's sentiments with response to the segment on Feingold, for a few reasons.

1) I think characterizing Feingold as an opponent of humanitarian intervention isn't really fair. Clearly, his expressed reasons for opposing intervention earlier were fears of creating a situation similar to what's going on in Iraq now - overstretch, quagmire, etc. I think that kind of pragmatic approach to foreign policy is a neccesary component of good humanitarianism, because it keeps into account what kind of resources and capabilities we have. Had Bosnia ended up like Iraq, it would have made later intervention near impossible, just as Iraq has foreclosed the possibility of US Military action in Darfur.

2) I think Feingold's comment clearly shows that he is informed and concerned about human rights abuses. He is questioning the selectivity of US response to abuses, and that is something someone needs to do.

Between the expressed concern of overstretch and the concern for human rights, I think it isn't too much of a stretch to think Feingold might be supportive of multilateral interventions.

Humanitarianism is good, I would argue morally obligatory. But there are lots of other considerations an effective leader has to take into account when deciding how to act on said obligation.

As an aside to Jack, I can say that, having seen Feingold speak, if you get the chance you will not be dissapointed.