Feingold and Johnson debate

By Bill Kaplan

What came across during Friday's debate between Democratic challenger Russ Feingold and GOP Senator Ron Johnson was that Feingold has character. Throughout the evening he stressed that bipartisanship is needed to reverse the paralysis in the GOP-led Congress. Earlier, Feingold told me that progressive principles were necessary to solve the problems of deindustrialization, globalization, tax privileges for the rich and unfair trade deals. However, Feingold wants the Senate to return to working with civility, compromise and negotiation.

During Friday's debate Feingold repeatedly called for bipartisanship, no matter the problem: "Common sense" gun safety to protect the rights of gun owners, but keep guns from criminals and terrorists; fix the Affordable Care Act by lowering out-of- pocket costs; use more clean energy and reverse climate change; and return to working across party lines to defend the nation through enhanced intelligence gathering, consulting more with other countries and strategically using Special Operations Forces.

Feingold eloquently said: "This is one of these times where you have to be an American first, not a politician running for office, not a Republican or Democrat, but an American who's worried about the future of our great country." Not mere words to Feingold or me. I have military brass in my family, including a cousin who is a retired general and a brother who is a retired colonel U.S. Army Special Forces. In 2002, Feingold met with my brother who had just returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan. He didn't ask about my brother's politics (conservative Republican). Instead, Feingold wanted to know did U.S. troops have adequate resources and if the Special Operations budget needed to be increased. There were other serious and probing questions -- not a photo op. Feingold has character.

Contrast with Senator Johnson's record. He successfully opposed Senate ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, despite a heartfelt appeal from former Kansas GOP Senator Bob Dole, a disabled WWII hero. And, Johnson opposed the confirmation of former Nebraska GOP Senator Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam War veteran, for Secretary of Defense. Finally, Johnson was almost alone in opposing a bill to reform the Veterans Health Administration, provide more timely care, increase the number of primary care doctors and lease more medical facilities. The Veterans of Foreign Wars said: "There is a cost of going to war that includes taking care of those who come home wounded, ill and injured, and if these three senators (Johnson and two other Republicans) have determined that we can't afford to properly care for our veterans, they should seek employment elsewhere!"

Wisconsin voters should concur and choose a bipartisan problem solver like Feingold. Last week three former Wisconsin GOP state legislators endorsed Feingold. And, don't forget what Arizona GOP Senator John McCain said: "Russ Feingold every day and in every way had the courage of his convictions. I think he is one of the most admirable people I have ever met in my entire life." Johnson should disavow Trump, as McCain has. That would be character.

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.

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