Senator Russ Feingold just demolishes his former colleague John Edwards in an interview in the Appleton Post-Cresent:
On the Democratic presidential candidates
I did notice that as the primaries heated up, all of a sudden, all the presidential candidates — none of whom voted with me on the timeframe to withdraw from Iraq — all voted with me and when we did the Patriot Act stuff.
The one that is the most problematic is (John) Edwards, who voted for the Patriot Act, campaigns against it. Voted for No Child Left Behind, campaigns against it. Voted for the China trade deal, campaigns against it. Voted for the Iraq war … He uses my voting record exactly as his platform, even though he had the opposite voting record.
When you had the opportunity to vote a certain way in the Senate and you didn’t, and obviously there are times when you make a mistake, the notion that you sort of vote one way when you’re playing the game in Washington and another way when you’re running for president, there’s some of that going on.
On whether he’ll make an endorsement in the Feb. 19 Wisconsin primary
Probably not. I’m having a hard time deciding between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, as are many people. Those are the two I take the most seriously.
I go back and forth, to be honest with you. I’m torn on this whole issue of who’s more likely to be progressive and really seek change vs. who’s ready to do the job today. It really is a true dilemma in my mind. [Emphasis added]
Feingold’s comments actually mesh fairly closely with what I’ve heard from some Senate staffers in DC about Edwards. He’s thought of as someone who started thinking about his presidential run very early in his career, though he kept voting in a way that kept him safe with his constituents. His last year in the Senate saw a large leftward shift in his voting pattern, but at that point I think the damage was done.
That doesn’t presume, though, that the criticisms of Edwards by people working in Washington are fair or his transformation from a centrist to a hardline progressive is not convincing. No one is talking about the economic crush facing America’s working and middle classes in our presidential field, save John Edwards. No one – not even Russ Feingold – has used their bully pulpit as a political icon to identify and call out the damaging effects of corporatized America to the extent or with the commitment that John Edwards has. I agree with Feingold — it would have been great if Edwards had voted what he talks now. He didn’t and I can understand why his former colleague would be angered by Edwards’ timely transformation.
Last winter I started a blog with Kombiz Lavasany and Matt Ortega (both now at the DNC) called The Right’s Field, to exclusively cover the GOP primary. One of the things that I was initially puzzled by was the willingness of the Republican base to accept Mitt Romney’s transition from pro-choice, pro-gun control moderate to a conservative of Reagan’s ilk over a few short years. While attending CPAC I spoke with a Republican blogger who explained this phenomena to me on the grounds of Christianity and redemption. The redemption narrative is powerful and common in religious conservative culture. People do wrong, but if they change their ways, they can be forgiven; the change is a good thing. Romney wouldn’t be universally savaged because most conservatives will see him as transitioning from being wrong to being right — and they want their presidential candidates to be right far more than they want them to be without flaw (one could see this evidently when you realize Giuliani, Romney, and McCain have been frontrunners while Brownback and Tancredo are dropouts).
I agree with Feingold that Edwards voted the wrong way on key issues while he was in the Senate. Frankly, he could have been a better Democratic Senator. But he has undergone a transformation, one which when I hear him talk I believe is genuine. Edwards admits he was wrong about Iraq, about bankruptcy, about the Patriot Act, and now he takes good positions on them, some of the strongest in the Democratic Party. This transformation has brought him to not just a better place as a Democrat, but a better place than most Democrats, particularly Senators and presidential candidates, currently occupy.
Attacking Edwards for inconsistency strikes me as something that we don’t need to do, though I’m sure the Clinton and Obama campaigns oppo research shops will continue to do it. I think progressives should welcome the fact that John Edwards has become a leading voice for change, for workers rights, and against corporate power. We don’t have too many people speaking about these issues who can command attention and I’m not ready to write off John Edwards.