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Sen. Russ Feingold, New Obama Election Co-Chair: “The President is Wrong” to Accept Super PAC Money

StoryFebruary 23, 2012
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One of the newly named co-chairs of President Obama’s re-election campaign is openly criticizing the President’s decision to accept super PAC funds, his record on civil liberties, and his handling of the war in Afghanistan. Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has described Obama’s decision on super PACs as “dancing the with the devil.” At the time Feingold was named a campaign election co-chair on Wednesday, the lead headline on his organization’s website read: “The President is Wrong.” “I think it’s a big mistake to go down the road of unlimited, undisclosed corporate contributions,” Feingold says. “That’s not who Barack Obama is. That’s not what the Democratic Party should be. And I think it doesn’t help him get re-elected. And I think it delivers the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, to corporate power and corporate domination.” Feingold served in the U.S. Senate for 18 years. During that time, he wrote the landmark campaign finance law, McCain-Feingold. He also opposed the war in Iraq and was the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act. After he lost his re-election bid in 2010, he founded the organization Progressives United. His new book is called “While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the newly named co-chairs of President Obama’s re-election campaign is openly criticizing the President’s decision to accept super Pac funds. Former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold has described Obama’s decision as, quote, “dancing the with the devil.” At the time Feingold was named a campaign election co-chair on Wednesday, the lead headline on his organization’s website read simply, “The President is Wrong.”

Feingold’s organization, Progressives United, went on to say, quote, “The President is wrong to embrace the corrupt corporate politics of Citizens United through the use of Super PACs—organizations that raise unlimited amounts of money from corporations and the richest individuals, sometimes in total secrecy. It’s not just bad policy; it’s also dumb strategy.” The website has since been changed to highlight Feingold’s recent appearance on The Daily Show.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Senator Feingold formed Progressives United after he lost his 2010 re-election bid for the U.S. Senate. He had represented Wisconsin in the Senate for 18 years. During that time, he wrote the landmark campaign finance law, McCain-Feingold. He also opposed the war in Iraq, was the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT Act. Now Russ Feingold has written a book chronicling U.S. missteps in the decade after the September 11th attacks; it’s called While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era.

On Wednesday, I sat down with Senator Russ Feingold. I began by asking him about his website’s charge that “The President is Wrong.”

RUSS FEINGOLD: That had to do, I assume, with the issue of super PACs. I happen to agree with the President on the vast array of issues. I think he’s a good president. I think he’s going to win re-election and be a great president by the time he’s done. But, you know, the President and I know each other. And he knows that there are certain things I feel strongly about. In fact, he was very helpful as a senator on things like having a time frame to getting us out of Iraq, things like changing the PATRIOT Act and civil liberties, and also on campaign finance reform. So, when he’s going in the wrong direction on that, as a friend and an ally, I’m going to say, “Mr. President, I don’t think it’s right.” And I’m pleased that he still wants me to be a co-chair of his campaign, because that’s the way I’ll always support him: when I think he’s right, which is almost all the time, I’ll be vocal and strong in his support, and when I think he needs to change direction, I’ll offer my opinion.

And I think it’s a big mistake to go down the road of unlimited, undisclosed corporate contributions. That’s not Barack—who Barack Obama is. That’s not what the Democratic Party should be. And I think it doesn’t help him get re-elected. And I think it delivers the Democrats, as well as the Republicans, to corporate power and corporate domination. So, that’s why Progressives United and I feel this way.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it says, “The President is wrong to embrace the corrupt corporate politics of Citizens United through the use of Super PACs… It’s not just bad policy; it’s also dumb strategy,” you say, about President Obama. He seemed to change, said he will take super PAC money. What was the alternative?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, the alternative is to run on what you really believe in. And if you believe that the unlimited money is what actually wins elections, that’s only in a case when you don’t have a good product to sell in terms of who you are and what you are. The President has that. He’s a capable, intelligent president. The economy is getting better. He’s done so well on international matters that the Republicans are afraid to talk about it. That’s part of what I mean by “while America sleeps.” They don’t want to talk about it, because he’s doing so well. He doesn’t need the taint of unlimited, undisclosed contributions to infect the good thing that he has going. I think it can hurt him politically, and not to mention, the result is, he’s going to have people elected to Congress who will be so corporatized that he won’t be able to get through the agenda that I really believe he wants, which is a more progressive, people-rated agenda. So I think it’s bad politics and bad policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you took PAC money when you ran for the Senate, the race against Ron Johnson that Johnson won. What’s the difference between—

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, PAC money is, first of all—

AMY GOODMAN: —PAC money and super PAC money?

RUSS FEINGOLD: First of all, I take less—first of all, I take less than 10 percent when I ran, of just PAC money. PAC money is completely disclosed. A huge organization can only give a total of $10,000 over six years, $10,000, versus $10 million. And so, I don’t—I think PACs actually were an innovation that allowed groups to come together, and if you limited how much you got totally from PACs, it’s perfectly fine.

Now, a super PAC is the complete opposite. A super PAC can take unlimited amounts of money. It can take money from corporate treasuries now, after Citizens United, from labor treasuries, something that was never allowed for like a century, ever since Teddy Roosevelt signed the Tillman Act and the Taft-Hartley Act with regard to unions. So it is, frankly, just a monstrous contraption. And Stephen Colbert has done a brilliant job of sort of pointing out what it is in a funny way, that it is a complete joke that these are somehow independent from the candidates. You know, it’s the former chief of staff, goes over there, and they don’t even have to wink at each other. It’s corrupting, and it’s destructive to the idea of every person’s vote counting the same. So PACs and super PACs are night and day.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re running Progressives United now. How are you fighting Citizens United? If you feel that it should be done away with, what’s the best strategy?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Yeah, I’m founder of Progressives United, and I work with an excellent group in both Washington and Wisconsin who are the people that are really running it. Look, we have a multi-tiered strategy. The most important thing, the long-term goal, is to get rid of the Citizens United decision. Some people think you do that by constitutional amendment. I don’t think that’s particularly practical. I think the more likely thing that will work is overturning the decision. That’s part of the reason I want to re-elect President Obama. That’s the only chance we have to get a couple of justices in the next few years who will do what any decent lawyer would do, which is overturn this awful decision.

But we don’t leave it at that. There’s also a legislative agenda that we’re working on that will limit the effects of Citizens United, disclosing—requiring disclosure of these contributions, which I suspect, in some cases, could be coming even from foreign sources; public financing of both congressional campaigns and fixing the presidential system; getting rid of the Federal Elections Commission, which just completely doesn’t work—it’s a joke, we need a real enforcement agency; having a tougher law defining what really is coordination between an independent group. All of—

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by getting rid of the FEC.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, the FEC is a farce. It is equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, and it’s gotten to the point where they never want to enforce the law. So, what happened recently, in a number of cases, the Democrats on the commission agreed with the staff’s recommendation to fine and penalize certain Democrats.


RUSS FEINGOLD: For certain campaign violations. And the Republicans refused.

AMY GOODMAN: To fine the Democrats?

RUSS FEINGOLD: To fine the Democrats, because they don’t want any rules. They don’t want any laws. So, John McCain and I drafted a bill that I think the Brennan Center here and others have talked about, which is to create a real enforcement agency with an administrative enforcement mechanism, not a deadlock situation. You know, it’s great to have good laws. It’s great to pass McCain-Feingold, which is still the law of the land. It will be great to overturn Citizens United and get the genie back in the bottle. But you still have to actually enforce the law. What’s the situation right now, Amy, is all these campaigns know there’s no enforcement. So, that’s part of it.

But the other thing I want to say about Progressives United is, we engage right in these campaigns. We call them as we see them. We point out that Santorum and Gingrich are actually going to the super PAC events themselves. We point out that the President—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, going to the super PAC?

RUSS FEINGOLD: They are literally special guests at the independent super PAC events on their own behalf. It’s a joke. We talk about what the President has done. We—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the President says he won’t go to the actual event, and Michelle Obama won’t go, but his—

RUSS FEINGOLD: Right, but his cabinet members—but his cabinet members will. They don’t belong there. We endorse candidates. We believe we’ll do the right thing with regard to the issues we care about. One of the first—the first person we endorsed was Elizabeth Warren. And through our political action committee, we raised a significant amount of money from small contributors for a person like that who I think will be one of the great progressive voices of the country. So, it’s a multi-tiered attack on the domination of corporate—corporations on our system of government.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the changing of the Supreme Court, if President Obama is re-elected, appointing members of the court. The Chief Justice, John Roberts, proudly with the majority on Citizens United. You, as a senator, voted for John Roberts. Are you sorry?

RUSS FEINGOLD: You know, John Roberts has really disappointed me on this point. There was a while there where he was refusing to overturn McCain-Feingold, and he never actually did do that. And Scalia actually sort of chastised him for that. I thought there was some chance that he was going to do what he said. He said to us, and many liberal lawyers in the country called me and said he’s a good guy, and when he says that they’re going to—he’s going to call the balls and strikes. Well, he hasn’t done anything of the kind. And you should see how defensive his opinion is—it’s worth reading—in Citizens United. It’s a concurring opinion. It’s the most offensive thing I’ve ever seen. He keeps trying to explain how this really wasn’t overturning the law and precedent. It’s phony. And so, I am deeply disappointed in his performance, and I’m hoping, since he’s a relatively young man, that he will change course. And I would love to see him realize that what has been done in Citizens United is a great damage to the court itself. It’s not just to the campaign system. Along with Bush v. Gore, these two decisions have brought the United States Supreme Court into discredit in the eyes of the American people, and that’s a very dangerous thing.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold has been named one of the 35 co-chairs of President Obama’s re-election campaign. We’ll come back to the conversation in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We return to my conversation with former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold. I spoke to him yesterday, just as he was named one of the 35 co-chairs of President Obama’s re-election campaign. I asked him about his decision to oppose the USA PATRIOT Act, the only senator who did.

RUSS FEINGOLD: While America Sleeps, there’s really two parts to the book. One part has to do with my concerns about the way we’ve invaded other countries and not looked at the world in a global way. The second part of the book, though, has to do with the exploitation of 9/11 to achieve various domestic agendas. One of those, of course, was the attack on civil liberties and the attack on the Constitution by President Bush. So, the President Bush one had to do with commander-in-chief powers and wiretapping and torture. But as to the PATRIOT Act, that’s one where the Democrats were complicit: we had a Democrat United States Senate that helped jam through that bill.

So, for me, I didn’t think that—I thought the bill would end up being one I could support. I had supported the Afghanistan resolution, because it was carefully tailored to that situation. And the first draft of the PATRIOT Act that came from the House looked like it was going to fix some of the problems of having to do with library records and sneak-and-peek searches of people’s houses. All of a sudden, not only the administration, but the Democratic majority, didn’t allow the bill to go through the Judiciary Committee, tried to jam the bill through the Senate. And the only way it had a debate at all is that I insisted on it. And, you know, various senators were saying, “You know, Russ, you’re right about this.” But when it came down to the vote, I was the only one to vote no. And I didn’t know what the reaction would be, but I’ll tell you, I’ve never had a more positive reaction, really a surprising one, from people all across the political spectrum, who said, “Thank you for letting us know it’s still OK to disagree. Thank you for standing up for the Constitution. Thank you for standing up for civil liberties.”

Sad news, Amy, as you know, is, we still haven’t fixed that bill. And it was one of the first things, in addition to the way Muslims have been characterized in this country, and then what I call trivializing foreign policy for political gain, the games you’ve seen of the Republican candidates, the idea of saying that President Obama is always apologizing for America, which is untrue, mocking the foreign trips he’s taken, having their entire foreign policy be encapsulated in the words “American exceptionalism.” But, you know, I believe America is exceptional. I think it’s the greatest country in the world. But it really doesn’t help us to constantly just look at people and basically scream, “We’re number one!” and then go back to sleep. And that’s what it seems like they’re asking us to do. So, the combination of the exploitation of the fears of 9/11 has done great damage to our ability to be cognizant of what’s going on in the rest of the world, and it’s limited some of our rights and liberties here within the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: When President Obama was senator, he said he would not only not support corporations, telecom companies getting retroactive immunity for eavesdropping, wiretapping American citizens unauthorized, but he would filibuster it. Before we knew it—this was September 2008—he not only had switched his position, but right before the Democratic National Convention in Denver, he voted for the granting of immunity to these companies. We head to Denver, and suddenly we see all the Democratic delegates with those schwag bags, and they’ve got the big AT&T imprint on them, you know, the very companies that were benefiting from the legislation that Obama had done a complete flip-flop on. What do you think of that? And what position did you take?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Oh, of course, I completely opposed the immunity. I was not only on the Foreign Relations Committee, but on the Intelligence Committee. And I had a chance to review the law. There was a process by which these companies could have been given a proper request to do this. That law was not followed. It was not legal for them to do this.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what they did and what the law was.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, they went ahead and assisted with certain kinds of information gathering through their systems, at the request of the government, but the government did not make the request properly, according to the law. And I can’t got into all the details of what was said and done, but I can assure you that the law was not followed. What this exemption involves, this immunity, is saying, “Oh, that’s all right. You don’t need to follow the law.” Well, what kind of a precedent does that establish? So, of course I disagree with anybody who supported that immunity. It never should have been allowed. And you can’t have this attitude of, you know, the laws only matters when things are going well. The founders of our country lived in pretty tough times. And as Justice Goldberg says—said in one of the famous opinions where he said the Constitution is not a suicide pact, he says the laws of our country apply equally in times of peace and in times of war. And you can’t just make this stuff up and say later on, “Hey, things weren’t going too well. We couldn’t follow the law.” So, this immunity is completely unjustified.

AMY GOODMAN: There was the sense that it was a total quid pro quo, because not only did AT&T pour that money in, and the other telecoms, very thankful that they had been granted immunity, they ran through one of the first major corporate parties for the Democrats.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Yeah, this is the problem with these kinds of huge contributions from corporations. That’s why Teddy Roosevelt and “Fighting Bob” La Follette from Wisconsin realized at the apex of the Gilded Age, we can’t have, every time you buy a bar of soap or go to the gas station, that money used from corporate treasuries to influence the political process. It will make a joke out of people’s right to participate and the idea of one person, one vote. And so, the wisdom of our predecessors has been strong all these years, and yet the Supreme Court threw us back into this mess.

You know, John McCain and I succeeded in banning unlimited contribution to political parties. What you saw in 2000 at the Democratic National Convention was not allowed by 2004 and 2008. There couldn’t be parties where there were unlimited campaign contributions, unless there was some kind of loophole for the conventions. And so, we actually had the genie back in the bottle as of 2008. People say, “Was it ever better?” You bet. In 2008, there were no soft money contributions to the parties. People said, “Well, how are we going to raise the money?” They went to the internet. They went to electronic democracy. Millions of people gave small contributions. College students, elderly people, even shut in their homes, went to the internet and gave contributions, and they were invited to the table of democracy. In my view, the corporate world saw the face of democracy, and they were terrified. So they engineered Citizens United. This system was beginning to improve, and the key is to overturn Citizens United.

AMY GOODMAN: How would you rate—how would you grade President Obama on civil liberties? You have been critical on a number of issues.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, I don’t do grades right now. That’s something that I prefer—

AMY GOODMAN: Aren’t you a professor?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, I do grades—yes, at a law school I did grades. But I’m not going to grade the President. I will say this: I am disappointed in his commitment to civil liberties at this point. He needs to get his game back on that. And here’s the thing: it’s not like you can really accuse Barack Obama of being soft on terrorism. I mean, can you imagine how happy the Republicans had been if they had had the president that got Osama bin Laden, al-Awlaki and Gaddafi out of power? He’s fine on that. This is a golden opportunity for him to say, “I stand firm and effectively against those that are trying to kill us, and I also stand up for the Constitution.” So, I don’t want him to even wait for the election. I want him to start moving as strongly as he can to repair the damage that’s been done.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned the killing of Awlaki. Did you support that in Yemen?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, obviously I wasn’t consulted in advance. The question there is, is there a doctrine where if somebody is an American citizen and they are clearly affiliated with an enemy power and it is impossible to get them—if that’s true, and that’s what I don’t know—if it’s impossible to get them any other way, is it justified? I would say, probably. But how do I know whether that’s true. You have to tread very carefully when you’re dealing with American citizens. But I am not shedding any tears over the loss of that person, who I think did horrible things.

AMY GOODMAN: The President—the ACLU has sued President Obama most recently. “The targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law,” writes the ACLU in their press release. They said, “As we’ve seen today, this is a program under which American citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process, and on the basis of standards and evidence that are kept secret not just from the public but from the courts. The government’s authority to use lethal force against its own citizens should be limited to circumstances in which the threat [to] life is concrete, specific and imminent.” And they not only killed Awlaki, but then, in a separate killing, they killed his 16-year-old U.S.-born son.

RUSS FEINGOLD: I agree with the proposition of the ACLU’s lawsuit, and I think it should be litigated. I think it will be very interesting to see whether the killing of al-Awlaki fits that definition. I think that’s going to be a close question. As to the other ones, it’s a fair point. And, of course, I agree, as a general policy, as something that’s an excuse to do whatever you want and assassinate U.S. citizens anywhere near a conflict, that cannot be justified. But I think as to the actual person who was the target, I think it’s a fair question that needs to be litigated.

AMY GOODMAN: Just before you leave—I know that you just have a few minutes. You’re coming from Wisconsin. That’s where you’re based. That’s who you represented. And Wisconsin was ground zero for protest in this country. You might say it came right out of, maybe even inspired by, the Arab Spring. Before Occupy, there was Wisconsin.

Earlier this month, February 15th marked the first anniversary of the Wisconsin uprising that erupted after Republican Governor Scott Walker announced his plans to eliminate almost all collective bargaining rights for most public workers, as well as slash their pay and benefits. Now, a year later, Walker is in the midst of a recall and faces an investigation for campaign corruption.

It was February 14th last year when Walker first unveiled the curbs on state workers, after refusing to negotiate a new contract with them.

GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Good-faith negotiation requires give and take. We are broke in this state. We’ve been broke for years. People have ignored that for years, and it’s about time somebody stood up and told the truth. The truth is, we don’t have money to offer. We don’t have finances to offer. This is what we have to offer. And if you’re going to negotiate, you’ve got to have something to offer. We don’t have something.

AMY GOODMAN: Governor Walker. Are you thinking of running for governor, taking on Governor Walker?

RUSS FEINGOLD: I don’t think he’s going to be governor very long. And we’re going to have some great candidates, people who I know, who have executive experience, who are going to run and defeat him. I served the people of the state proudly for 28 years. I’m taking a break for a couple years. But I have worked hard. And through Progressives United, we have supported this recall effort and will continue to. And I was one of the first people to sign the petition, and I am going to be thrilled to have a new governor in Wisconsin as early as early June.

AMY GOODMAN: It is not just a simple recall. People have to run against him.


AMY GOODMAN: People are saying that you’re the sure-fire one. Is the state of Wisconsin, given your politics, important enough to you to run?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, of course, Wisconsin is extremely important to me. And the people that are running are people that I trust who really want to be governor at this time. I think that’s important. I think people have to know that the person who’s running is ready and eager to be governor the next day. I know a couple of our candidates that are likely to run are in that mode, and I think they are the right people to run. The notion that I’m the only guy that can do this, I think is wrong, because, you know what, this is a recall. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about sort of how do we, you know, figure out the ideal candidate. It’s about the fact that somebody did great violence to our state, and that we—if we have a credible candidate, who has experience, particularly executive experience, that’s going to be more persuasive to people in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that Governor Walker did great violence. Explain what Governor Walker did. What do you think are his most egregious violations? And talk about the investigation, as well.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, I don’t believe that recalls should just happen anytime. On the other hand, we have a recall law in Wisconsin. They don’t have it in Ohio, for example. They can overturn laws by—as they did, by a vote. So, what’s a recall for? Well, it obviously doesn’t require criminal conduct. That’s not what it’s for. Yes, the Governor is under investigation. But it goes down that route, you know, who knows? Maybe he wouldn’t even be in office, or maybe that would be considered in the recall. But what’s the recall for? The recall, I think, is for when somebody has caused such damage to the state that their continuation in their term will continue a polarization and an inability to move forward, that it has to happen. This is that moment.

It’s like on foreign policy. I opposed almost every war that was proposed, and I said—people said, “Well, is there a war you would ever support?” Yes, when al-Qaeda attacked New York City and Washington, that was the occasion. Same thing on a recall. When you have collective bargaining rights, that the state of Wisconsin began collective bargaining rights for public employees, and somebody doesn’t even say basically that they’ll do anything about it, and they come in and instantaneously do that, break every tradition and every courtesy that’s ever been used in the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly—and I served in that legislative body of the State Senate for 10 years—show complete disregard for the extreme polarization that it’s causing, that person has done violence to the culture and traditions of the state of Wisconsin.

Add one other thing: the attack on the voting rights of Wisconsites. That’s the other basic thing. You can’t bring out the whole laundry list. Otherwise, people are going to say, “Well, you just want to have the election over.” But undermining voting rights and collective bargaining rights is so basic and so unfair—

AMY GOODMAN: How voting rights?

RUSS FEINGOLD: Oh, they’re requiring IDs and toughening up our laws that are—we have great pride that we have some of the most open and fair laws for people to vote, and they are trying to prevent people from voting. So, to me, these are offenses against the rights of the people that justify and actually require the recall of Governor Walker.

AMY GOODMAN: You ran really hard for the Senate seat that you lost. Herb Kohl is retiring. You could run for that Senate seat. Most think you wouldn’t have serious opposition. Would you consider Senate again?

RUSS FEINGOLD: You know, I have decided that the best thing for my family and for me and for my ability to contribute is to not be a permanent candidate. I ran for office for 28 years. I started when I was 29, I went 'til 57. That's a pretty good contribution. Maybe I’ll do it again. But you know what I think? I think sitting down and writing a book, trying to tell people of this country, “You know what? We’re falling asleep again in foreign policy,” creating an organization that says, you know, apart from who runs or who loses, actually the democracy is being devoured by corporations, I think those are ways to contribute, as well. So I like to think that there are other ways I can contribute other than simply running for office. Maybe I’ll do it again some day, but right now this is the way I feel I can best contribute.

AMY GOODMAN: You write “America sleeps.” Would you want to wake them up with a presidential run?

RUSS FEINGOLD: I’m not talking about running for office right now. I’ve got a president I like. I want to see him re-elected. That’s as far as I can see down the field.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the war. It’s something you take on in While America Sleeps. The “wars,” I should say. Iraq war, you opposed. What about Afghanistan today? And also talk about how we went to war with Iraq, how this actually happened.

RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, of course, they’re night and day. With Afghanistan, you know, we got a proposed resolution from the White House after 9/11 that would have basically allowed us to invade Ethiopia or Uzbekistan or any other place where the regime said that the other side is terrorist. That was crazy. We stopped that. We made it much narrower, so people like John Yoo and others couldn’t effectively rely on the authorization for military force. And we lined up, through Colin Powell, almost every Islamic country in the world. We took our time. And even though it’s never pleasant to go to war, it was right to try to get Osama bin Laden in that way. Iraq was the opposite. It was a complete fraud. It was a phony argument first about a connection to al-Qaeda and then phony arguments about weapons of mass destruction.

However, just because I supported the Afghanistan war doesn’t mean that I continue to support it. I was the first member of the Senate to call for a timeline to get us out of Afghanistan. Even before Obama was elected, when it was between McCain and Obama, I said, “Why are we talking about a surge? It doesn’t make sense to be there anymore.” Obviously, not only was bin Laden not in Afghanistan, he wasn’t even in Waziristan. He was in a suburb of Islamabad. And so, the notion of sending our troops over there, spending billions and billions of dollars in Afghanistan, makes no sense. And I think it was a mistake for the President to do the surge, and I think he’s beginning to realize we need to get out of there.

This is what I call in my book “the game of Risk approach,” that somehow you handle these problems by invading a country, and then you have to leave your troops there basically forever. That’s the rule in the game. If you want to attack another country, you’ve got to keep your troops here. This is the foolishness that we fell into. And we need to have a much more non-militaristic, much more intelligent approach to those who want to do us harm.

AMY GOODMAN: You have to leave, but you are critical of the President on Afghanistan, critical of the President on civil liberties and on going the route of super PACs. That makes for an interesting co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign.

RUSS FEINGOLD: How about a co-chair that’s proud of him for bringing us healthcare for the first time in 70 years? How about a co-chair who thinks that he has actually done a good thing with the economy and helped with the stimulus package, and we’ve had 22 months of positive job growth? How about a co-chair for a president that has the best reputation overseas of any president in memory, that has reversed the awful damage of the Bush administration, who, in places like Cairo and in India and Indonesia, has reached out to the rest of the world? Believe me, on balance, there’s no question. And finally, how about a co-chair of a president who I believe will help us appoint justices who will overturn Citizens United?

AMY GOODMAN: Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold. On Wednesday, he was named one of 35 co-chairs of President Obama’s re-election campaign. Russ Feingold is founder of Progressives United and author of a new book. It’s called While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era.

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