Friday, July 11, 2008

The Veepstakes III: Disappointing !!

The likelihood of Senator Feingold being selected as VP is pretty remote. But I think two recent actions by Senator Obama have (ever so) slightly increased the odds he could be picked.

My previous post discusses Senator Feingold's assets as a potential VP. Points #1 and #2 are salient here because of Obama's recent decision to (1) opt out of public funding for the general election, and (2) vote in favor of the new FISA law that expands warrantless wiretapping powers and grants telecom companies immunity for helping the government illegally wiretap its citizens. Both decisions have brought down criticism and called into question whether Obama is a transformational politician, or just a regular politician with a tremendous oratorical gift. Selecting Senator Feingold as his running mate should effectively quell these concerns.

Senator Obama's decision on campaign financing was probably not that damaging. However, it does raise the question of whether he would seriously try to reform campaign financing, should he win in November. Senator Feingold on the ticket would send a message that, indeed, he is serious about reforming our political system to limit the undue influence of money.

Senator Obama's vote on FISA, on the other hand, is seriously outraging a lot of folks, and is, to me, his most disappointing move so far. I'm not sure what the senator or his advisers were thinking, because recent ELECTORAL results show that this issue does not benefit Republicans. The folks at Daily Kos are covering this angle quite well, but in short, Republicans tried to use this particular "soft on terrorists" argument throughout 2006, and in all the special elections so far in 2008. The end result? They lost everything. Let's not forget that in 2006 the Republicans did not flip ANY seats. They lost EVERY race against Democratic incumbents and against candidates seeking to hold Democratic open seats. That was an historic routing. Furthermore, in 2008 they've lost 3 very RED districts, including the former Speaker of House's district.

Now I don't believe the electorate gave this drubbing to the Republicans because they were inspired by the Democrats' position on warrantless wiretapping. That's not the point. Rather, the voters IGNORED all the dire predictions of terribleness that the Republicans were claiming would happen if Democrats won. There has been no evidence to suggest that this November the voters are suddenly going to start buying an argument they've already rejected.

By endorsing the new FISA law, Obama has, at best, insulated himself against a political attack that has no effectiveness. At worst he's cleaved a huge wedge within his base. This is not irreparable, but it means that every future tack to the center will further exacerbate these tensions. Unless... he makes prominent tacks back to the left.

Picking Senator Feingold would not only help heal that rift, it would signal his re-commitment to a new kind of politics. Senator Feingold is a maverick within the Democratic Party, with a history of trying to change "politics as usual." His selection would validate the faith and hope that I have placed in Senator Obama's commitment to do things differently, and to shake off the shackles of the mainstream and conventional wisdom's framework of Left vs. Right, Democrat vs. Republican, weakness vs. strength, and "the way it is" vs. "the way it should be."


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