Monday, May 24, 2004

The One Who Should Be and the One Who Is
In the kabuki dance that is the modern campaign, today in Wisconsin we're getting The Announcement. We've all known for months that Russ Feingold is running for reelection to the U.S. Senate, but today he's doing the statewide flyaround to make it official. I was part of the crowd at his Madison appearance this morning (actually in Middleton, the suburb we both call home--Feingold and I are literally neighbors, as he lives only about two blocks from me). In his speech, he stressed deficit reduction, jobs, and health care, but got the biggest applause when he criticized Bush, Iraq, and the Patriot Act. And that's what the campaign is going to come down to. His opponents have already tried to make it a referendum on Feingold's patriotism and devotion to the War on Terrorism, because their stands on other issues are largely indefensible. They can't run on Republican job creation in a state that's lost 80,000 manufacturing jobs since Bush took office; they can't run on health care when they're on record as supporting Bush's inactivity in guaranteeing real care for every citizen; and they sure as hell can't run on fiscal responsibility.

(And they can't run on personalities, either. Feingold is as likeable a guy as you'll find in public life, self-effacing, uncontaminated by the pomposity that can infect even the most level-headed person elected to the Senate. He's got no shady business dealings to defend and no friends of dubious integrity to keep off the front pages. His opponents--unfortunately for them--have got to run on the issues.)

Listening to Feingold speak this morning, I couldn't help thinking, as I've thought before, that he's running for the wrong office. He should be running for president. As a speaker, as a thinker, and as a progressive, he makes John Kerry look weak by comparison.

The current resident of the White House is going on TV tonight to lay out a clear strategy for the June 30th handover of power in Iraq. (The Progress Report notes the irony of the speech being given at the Army War College, which released a report earlier this spring blasting the administration's military strategy in Iraq.) Over the weekend, The Observer reported on three possible scenarios for the post-handover period. One is fairly positive, suggesting that the new leadership will have a honeymoon that might permit them to make progress in appeasing the country's various factions on the way to free elections. The other two, however, are dark and darker, predicting instability more serious than we've seen under American occupation at best, and at worst, civil war--perhaps with more than two sides.

I have utterly no confidence that Bush's "clear strategy" will be any different from the ad-libbed cluster-fuck we've seen so far, a lot of wishful thinking leavened with lame platitudes bearing little relation to the way things really are on the ground over there. (Jerry Bowles floats a possible draft.) So it seems to me that odds of 2-1 against the handover going well are about right.

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