Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold has raised his stature on the national front enough to be mentioned as presidential fodder and a new unauthorized biography of Feingold attempts to explain why.
Sanford D. Horwitt calls Feingold “a true progressive” and generally fawns over the junior senator from Wisconsin throughout “Feingold: A New Democratic Party.”
“The Democratic Party and the country would be a better place if they practiced the politics of Feingold,” Horwitt says.
In the book we get the whole Feingold story, from childhood on. Most of it should be familiar to those who have followed his career, but it is a good, quick read at 250 pages..
Horwitt says he first was intrigued by Feingold during the senator’s 1998 re-election campaign, in which Feingold refused to take the soft money that everyone else was accepting. He almost lost because of principle. Horwitt started research on the book around 2001.
“Here’s a guy with no money in an era where money is increasingly critically important to winning elections. He defied conventional wisdom,” he says.
The author doesn’t accept that he’s too much a fan of Feingold, but that “I’m sympathetic to what he represents,” as he takes us down the senator’s career.
He especially likes Feingold’s independence, he says.
One of Feingold’s most notorious moves so far came when he was the only senator to vote against the USA Patriot Act, which gives the government vast powers to spy on its citizens.
“I was going to be with everybody else, voting for it,” Feingold told the author. “And that’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be voting against the anti-terrorism act any more than I wanted to vote against the Afghanistan resolution. I wasn’t looking for trouble, as my mother might say.”
“It’s not only about a voting record,” says Horwitt, “but how you use that public forum.”
Horwitt used interviews with Feingold, other senators, family and former colleagues from the state Legislature to mine his information and he attended more than 50 of Feingold’s now notable “listening sessions,” which the senator does 72 times a year.
“He spends much more time than most senators talking to real people,” Horwitt says.
Horwitt -- a graduate of Milwaukee Public Schools who grew up in Milwaukee -- previously wrote a stellar biography of one of the greatest community activists of all time, Saul Alinsky, in his book “They Call Me Rebel.”
So does Horwitt think Feingold could pass presidential muster?
“He would have brought a distinctive voice to the campaign and there’s not as rich a debate for it,” he says, suggesting that Feingold may give it a try in 2012. “Too many people pigeonhole him and don’t know how good a politician he is.”
An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.
He lives in Bay View.