Executive Interview Editor Josh Caplan and Senior Interview Editor Maya Khan talked with former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) for the Spring Edition of the Georgetown Public Policy Review, which will be released on Thursday.
Sen. Feingold served in the Senate from 1993 to 2011 after having spent ten years in the Wisconsin State Senate. After losing his 2010 reelection campaign to Republican Ron Johnson, he founded Progressives United, a 501(c)4 political action committee (PAC) devoted to facilitate grassroots mobilization. As a senator, he was known for being on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, yet able to broker bipartisan deals on challenging issues. He worked with future Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to reform the campaign finance system with the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, also known as the McCain-Feingold Act. In 2001, he was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, saying that the anti-terrorism legislation unnecessary violated the civil liberties of innocent Americans. Following are excerpts from the full published interview.
Georgetown Public Policy Review (GPPR): In recent decades, partisanship and polarization in the US have been consistently increasing. What do you think is causing this divide?
Russ Feingold: Well, I watched this happen. After I came to the Senate in the early ‘90s, it didn’t seem to be particularly partisan, compared to now. One of the things that happened is a bad cycle, which really began with the Contract With America coming into 1994. That group came in with a very partisan attitude, into Congress. And then Democrats often responded in the same way, and we sort of drew up sides. In the Senate, we used to have a much more bipartisan nature.
A lot of the things that have fueled this are the growth of talk radio and cable TV, where they need to fill up the time 24 hours a day. You’ve seen the extreme positions and almost bias, of both Fox and MSNBC, where people are constantly drilled with mostly just one side of the story. That really causes people to have their news and their attitudes filtered in one direction. And, unfortunately, people seem to be demanding that their elected representatives toe a strict line of one side or the other rather than finding good opportunities to work with the other side. I used to feel that we were rewarded or praised if we worked with the other side, when I worked with John McCain. That needs to come back again.
GPPR: Partisanship, filibusters, and an aversion to compromise in the Senate are at all-time highs. Is the Senate broken or can Congress come back away from their culture of brinkmanship we’ve been seeing?