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Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010

Swooning for the Rich

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The cruelest irony would be for Sen. Russ Feingold, a progressive populist in the mold of Wisconsin icon Robert La Follette, to be defeated by a millionaire businessman in the mold of Fighting Bob’s rapacious, robber-baron enemies.

A lot of totally irrational forces seem to be swirling around the midterm elections this year. The media tell us that people upset with President Barack Obama for not creating jobs fast enough to dig out of the deep Republican recession are so mad they’re going to vote for Republicans who oppose every government program to create jobs.

Republicans, the party of Wall Street and corporate wealth, somehow have made voters so mad about Wall Street bailouts that people are ready to put Republicans back in control to oppose regulating Wall Street and to give $700 billion in tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires.

Somehow caught in the middle of all this craziness is Feingold, one of the few truly maverick Democratic senators the Tea Parties should embrace because of his principled opposition to government intrusion in our liberties and his budgetary conservatism.

Even more surprising is that Feingold’s re-election this year is threatened by Ron Johnson, a shockingly lame Republican candidate.

New York Times
columnist Gail Collins was being kind recently when she referred to Johnson as “not all that impressive. Unless you like Ayn Rand and are yearning to see the country run just like a plastics business.”

Feingold and Johnson engaged in three debates. The enormous intellect and substance chasm separating the two candidates was glaringly obvious.

The problem was anyone watching or listening had trouble paying attention. Minds kept glazing over while Johnson was talking. Not to denigrate the numerical professions, but, frankly, he’s about as interesting as an accountant.

Actually, being an accountant is one of Johnson’s two or three talking points. In some of the millions of dollars’ worth of Johnson ads gushing out of our TV sets, Johnson counts up 57 lawyers in the U.S. Senate—writing laws, go figure—and only one accountant!

Imagine what an impact Johnson could have if he were elected. “Hey, you guys, come here and look at this! I just added up some really exciting numbers!”

Big-Money Influence

Feingold has come up with a far more relevant accounting of the 100 current senators, noting Johnson would be the 70th millionaire.

Being possibly the poorest member of the Senate seems to shield Feingold from the corrupting bias toward Big Money afflicting most other politicians.

In addition to nominating clumsy amateurs making headlines with embarrassingly colorful pasts, the Tea Parties hijacking the Republican primaries seemed to have a particular affinity for colorless millionaires.

California Republicans went for a super two-fer, running millionaire Carly Fiorina for the Senate and billionaire Meg Whitman for governor. The good news for democracy is that despite combined spending of hundreds of millions of dollars, both are currently behind in the polls.

Johnson has gotten much more out of his millions. A man with no political experience or apparent qualifications—and who most voters had never heard of until recently—has been running ahead in most polls.

Johnson’s campaign amounts to two or three simple ideas—very simple—and none of them true.

The first is that businessmen, not politicians, know how to create jobs. No. Businessmen, God love them, know how to create profits. One of the primary ways businessmen maximize profit is by hiring as few people as they can and paying them as little as possible.

Isthmus
columnist Bill Lueders once wrote: “Profit, honestly defined, is the difference between what workers earn and what they get paid.”

That is what’s behind the current wave of employer-extorted contracts allowing the hiring of “casual workers” at drastically reduced pay and no benefits.

During this campaign, we’ve learned how Johnson maximized his own profits by employing prison labor and paying some of his employees so little they receive BadgerCare, taxpayer-funded health insurance for the working poor and unemployed.

The other pillars of Johnson’s campaign are “the economic stimulus failed” and “health care reform is a budget-buster.”

Both statements are false. The stimulus bill prevented a second Great Depression and stopped 3.5 million more people from losing their jobs. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the health care law would save $138 billion the first 10 years and $1.2 trillion the second.

If Johnson succeeded in repealing health care reform, as he wants, he would exorbitantly increase the federal deficit he rails against.

The same would be true, of course, if he delivered on his only other specific promise—to pass a $700 billion tax cut for millionaires like himself.

Other unqualified millionaires around the country are having trouble buying elections. It will be Wisconsin’s shame if a not-very-impressive one defeats Russ Feingold, one of the truly unbought and unbossed independents in the Senate.

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