Over at Ezra's place, Neil did a post on Why Hillary Will Lose. I agree whole-heartedly with his assessment of Hillary, and his conclusions. Americans on the Left and the Right, any who aren’t blind ideologues, have a natural distaste for disingenuous rhetoric clearly designed to appeal to a crowd they haven’t previously; it’s the worst kind of artificial politicking, that which helps no one but (ostensibly) the person who’s doing it. If you need any evidence, try to find anyone who enthusiastically supported Hillary’s devolution into culture vulturism to take on the makers of Grand Theft Auto.
That said, I’m not sure that Russ Feingold’s liberalism will have as limited appeal as it might seem at first blush. It’s true that Feingold is now ranked the most liberal Senator (tied with Boxer) in the Senate, which would likely be, under typical circumstances, a liability. But with the opportunity having presented itself to hold accountable not just the Bush administration, but the conservative agenda, for many of the massive government failures we’ve seen lately, the game has changed a bit. Whether the Dems will exploit that opportunity in the same way the Lefty blogosphere managed to do quite effectively is, of course, a another story altogether, but if they can, the time for being brave enough to juxtapose the conservative agenda with a clear liberal alternative might have come.
It’s also useful to consider what the big referendum issues are likely to be in 2008 (which I will preface with the caveat that things might change; one never knows). But if, as we can at this point rightly expect, the Iraq War, the GWOT, and associated legislation to be key issues, Feingold’s going to have a lot less semantic gymnastics to do than some of his likely competitors. He voted against the war, and in a twist on the thorn in Kerry’s side, voted for the $87 billion once the war was underway; something tells me he’ll have an easier time explaining why he didn’t support the war, but did support the troops once they were there, than Kerry had trying to justify his votes in reverse. As support for the war wanes, someone who never supported it in the first place may find himself nicely positioned in 2008.
Feingold was also the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, another increasingly unpopular bit of Bush administration crapola, and suddenly a vote that might once have simply looked “liberal,” might instead be seen as having integrity—something that “unprincipled opportunists” who fight for the muddy middle will toil to counter.
During the spate of confirmation hearings directly after Bush’s inauguration, Feingold was criticized (and rightly so) for voting for Rice, even after giving a statement questioning her credentials. It was probably a bad vote, but by 2008, I doubt it will be much of an issue, and his only conceivable challengers who could claim otherwise are Kerry, who won’t be redeemed from other troubles by a no-vote on Condi, and Evan Bayh, who has a centrism problem similar to Hillary’s. (Feingold did vote no on Gonzales, for whatever it’s worth, and I think, again, by 2008, it won’t be worth much at all.)
Feingold may have other problems, in areas that shouldn’t matter, but might nonetheless. He’s twice-divorced (or will finalize his second divorce soon), and so when 2008 rolls around, he’ll either be thrice-married or a bachelor, either of which, if history accurately informs, are likely to be exploited by a GOP opponent who knows s/he can’t win on issues. He’s also Jewish, and I’ve no firm feeling about whether that would make a dime’s worth of difference to anyone besides bigoted dicks who would never vote for him, anyway, but it’s an unknown similar to that which would face a female or black candidate, or anyone who would be the first of anything—the question mark of American bigotry that hums beneath the surface in things that go unsaid. Neither of these potential issues have anything to do with whether he’d make a good president, which of course makes them perfect fodder for GOP-machine campaign tactics.
Leaving that aside, I’m unconvinced Feingold’s liberalism itself will be a liability in 2008. When one of the loudest complaints about Dems is that it’s unclear where they stand on things, a candidate with a firm vision (who’s a good speaker to boot) may answer that complaint quite handily. Liberalism isn’t a dirty word, and it needs no apology, which the Dems seem to have forgotten, but perhaps they’re willing to change course, unlike some other politicians I could mention.
(Crossposted at Ezra's juke joint.)