U.S. Senator Russ Feingold (D) fielded questions and addressed an audience of journalists and citizens at a sold out Milwaukee Press Club noon luncheon Wednesday, August 9.
A transcription of the event is below. The opening remarks made by MPC President Steve Jagler* and Feingold are unedited.
*As a matter of disclosure I am Jagler’s intern at Small Business Times.
A transcription in Q&A format from the media panel is below.
version is available from wispolitics.com. Time Warner Cable’s Wisconsin On Demand, channel 1111, also has the luncheon available.
Jeff Mayers, president of wispolitics.com, Charles Benson, of TMJ4, Greg Borowski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, and Bradley Wooten, a student journalist, sat on the media panel.
Steve Jagler, MPC president, made opening remarked on the paradigm shift in partisan beliefs.
“When I was growing up, being a Democrat usually meant you believed in a strong federal government with lots of social programs. You believed the federal government could solve or at least help society’s problems and contribute to the quality of life. You weren’t overly concerned about budget deficit and you were an advocate of human rights abroad. These are all personal observations of course.
“When I was growing up, being a Republican usually meant you were in favor of a smaller federal government, were fiscally conservative, wanted the federal government to keep the heck out of people’s personal life, and you generally were not in favor of nation building or military actions abroad unless our national security was a direct threat.
“I daresay that somehow, 30 years later, things are getting turned upside down. Today in many ways what once was considered right is left, what once was considered left is right. Today there’s a presidential candidate calling for fiscal responsibility, calling for protecting the privacy of individual citizens, calling for the protection of people’s personal lifestyle decisions and calling for bringing out troops home.
“But he’s not a Republican; he’s our guest here today. So red states, blue states today as you know we’re more divided than we have been in 30 years. It’s a pleasure for me to introduce our newsmaker guest today, U.S. Senator Russ Feingold.”
Feingold followed with opening remarks of his own, including honoring outgoing TMJ4 anchor Mike Gousha.
“I want you to know that my focus has been in the last couple of years has been first and foremost the responsibilities here in Wisconsin. I continue to do my town meetings. We have already done 40 this year, listening sessions. Later this year, God willing, we will hit number 1,000. And we continue to work with the highest numbers of people we’ve ever had.
“Of course my work in Washington is just amazingly challenging. There’s no problem with being bored in the job and now as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Budget Committee and the Intelligence Committee, the events over the last five years have made these clearly where the action is and in many cases has been a very big part of the focus of my life and my work and I’m enjoying it a great deal and still consider it the greatest honor of my life to continue to serve you as a senator for Wisconsin.
“But I also am spending time, as you know, to change this one party rule in this country. And I’ve been to some 16 states and to get Progressives elected across the country. This is a milestone election this year if we Democrats miss this opportunity to change this one party rule that has basically existed for 12 years, we will have missed a tremendous opportunity.
“But I am especially focus and excited about what’s going to happen politically in Wisconsin. You may not know it but I’ve been working my tail off on this. We have got a great situation in the 8th Congressional District, where I think we’re going to pick up a Democratic seat. We have an opportunity to pick up the state senate. And I’ve made appearances and will make an appearance today in those races where I think we can pick up seats in the state senate. We have incredible young candidates in places like the Fox River Valley. I am very excited about working on that in the coming months.
“Of course, reelecting Governor Doyle is one of my highest priorities. I am excited about that and believe he will prevail. Finally, I am just nervous as a cat about getting Herb Kohl back in. Everything I can do to make sure Herb squeaks by for his fourth term. Frankly it’s not enough to just win elections in order for us to win the way I want us to win. Which is to win for a lot of years as is the chance the Republicans have had over the last few years to really govern this country. And that means we have to say what we will do. What will we look like? What will we try to do? Both in the short term and the long term.
“What will we do on January 3 or whatever it is, the first day is going to be. Well first, maybe take a little page at a much lower level from FDR – talk about the first 100 days. Let’s talk things that we can do fast, fixing the Medicare prescription drug benefits. We have a majority in both houses already to allow medicines in from Canada, force the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices.
“There’s tremendous anxiety in American about these voting machines. We can pass a bill right away to require a paper trail as Wisconsin does in the 22 states where that doesn’t happen. We can overturn the Supreme Court decision that’s threatened the wetlands in this country with a clear legislative statement that we should be able to get at non-navigable waters as well as navigable waters.
“We should do everything we can to reverse the president’s really unwise and unfortunate veto on stem cells. And yes we should continue our new mantle of which (Jagler) referred to as the party of fiscal responsibility, which the Democrats are—based on our record in the 1990s.
“So we should do all of that.
“But we should also in this period talk about the longer term. And we should be bold and we shouldn’t try and play it safe. I’m a little concerned that the Democratic Congress is … for 6 for ’06. It’s nice. I agree with it. But it’s not strong enough. It doesn’t show that the Democrats are really going to take bold steps. For example, I think it should say the Democrats are willing to go on record and do everything they can to work with Republicans to guarantee health care for every single American. We shouldn’t be nibbling around the edges.
“Now I’ve proposed a bill that would allow for various states to start to be pilot projects for this. I’m hoping that will attract Republican conservatives. But we should be bold in our statements on that.
“The public is crying out for a party that will be very aggressive about alternative energy, putting real dollars into things like biodiesel, ethanol.
“It’s not enough to try and defeat bad trade agreements. We need to have creative approaches to our trade policy that allows us to protect America while also having the opportunity to have free and fair trade.
“And finally affordable housing. Everywhere I go in Wisconsin … people are talking about the lack of affordable housing for people who used to live in those communities.
“So all of that should be part of our domestic agenda.
“But in the end, the most important thing will be whether or not we have the guts to say what needs to be said about foreign policy.
“We have got to stop this Iraq mistake. This was an error. This was a major strategic error. It is damaging our national security. It is absolutely reasonable to talk about a public timetable to withdraw the troops.
“Now that even these generals who used to say to me that this wasn’t a good idea are essentially admitting that the longer we stay there, the more of a mess that we’re going to be in. Let’s focus on those that attacked us on 9-11 and as we do it, let’s make sure that the president of the United States obeys the law of the United States. I still believe that there has to be some accountability for the fact that he clearly broke the law with regard to the illegal wire tapping.
“Finally, the greatest concern I have about all this is if somehow Democrats are perceived as being something simplistic as anti-war. That’s not what I just said. I supported the Afghanistan invasion. I support military action where it’s necessary. And so Democrats have to be muscular about this. Democrats have to talk passionately about how the 9-11 attacks have affected them and their hopes for their children and the future.
“And so we should not be afraid to say that we will be tough militarily and otherwise where we need to be. But we should say that we’ll be smarter about it. And do a better job. And do a better job of protecting the American people.”
“So there was a big election in Conneticut last night – I don’t know whether you know about that.”
“I hadn’t heard about it.”
“Well then I’ll let you know personally, (Conneticut Democratic Senator Joe) Lieberman lost (the primary). How’s that going to effect the fall elections? Is it going to have a big impact or is this just affirmation of what you thought was happening?”
“I thought it was an affirmation of something much larger than just Joe Lieberman or Ned Lamont (the political newcomer, who founded a cable company, and would have challenged the incumbent Lieberman) both of whom I admire. Joe Lieberman is a wonderful person; he’s a great guy. He’s been a very good friend. Net Lamont I don’t know well personally but I really admire the campaign he’s running. And I talked with him this morning. He and I both know that this is about what I just mentioned. The fact American knows a disastrous mistake was made in Iraq. That this administration, in order to cover its tracks, in order to somehow avoid the inevitable judgment of history keeps us there and keeps making the mistake over and over again. This is an enormous tragedy that has to stop.
“Ned Lamont understood that. He had the courage to run a campaign on that issue – that’s what that was about. And that is a warning to everybody out there that this is not something that’s going to go away and be replaced by other issues this year.”
One of Feingold’s former staff members made a comment to him that if he was looking for a reason not to run for president, Feingold didn’t receive that reason last night (with regard to Lieberman).
“Are you going to run for president? And do you want to be president?”
“That is a very important part of the question. The way I’ve handled it so far is I haven’t dealt with the question.”
Feingold said he won’t deal with the question until the various things he’s speaking to resonate.
“Once the election is over I have to look at three things.
“Number one, do I believe I am ready to be president of the United States? Obviously, if I can’t answer that question in the affirmative after thinking about it, I shouldn’t run. And that’s a pretty cocky thing to think you’re ready to do. So I got to think about that.
“Secondly, I would only run to win. There are people out there who say we would love, we need you out there, you’re the only guy that voted against the Iraq war, I just—that isn’t in me. To just do it to make a statement. Although I make my statements in my current position and I am very comfortable with that.
“I would have to believe that I would not only win the nomination but that I would win the election for the Democrats. Because we have to win in ’08 and have a Democratic president. And I have to answer that in affirmative.
“And third, I’d have to answer that one (Benson) asked. And that is, from a personal point of view, is this what I want? I love what I’m doing right now. This is the job of jobs for me. It’s the greatest thrill I could ever imagine. I think I’m doing it pretty well. I think I have a good relationship with the people of the state and I’m having a good time personally. So to change all that is something I have think about and I am going to give it some serious thought. Those are the things I’ll have to think about and I’m not ready to do that.
“But you’ll be the reporter. I’ve made that promise to about 100 people already.”
“I always thought that I would be the reporter. Shifting gears a little bit. We seem to hear a lot of generals talking about concerns that the situation in Iraq … and a civil war. Do you consider that more likely to happen or less likely to happen if we were to pull out on the schedule you’ve set?”
“I know this is a little counter intuitive for people, but I really do believe our presence there promotes a climate without anything other than appropriate action by our troops. It creates a climate that tends to cause these various sides to think, ‘Hey, Americans are out there guaranteeing this situation. We can take potshots at the others.’
“It’s very different when there is no, as they call it, an occupying force. So I believe it’s our presence there. And of course (U.S. Generals) have said this. It tends not only to feed the insurgency, which (the generals) have said, but it also I think feeds the sectarian violence. Through no fault of our own. It’s simply a militarist environment – a militaristic environment – that leads to people being violent. Now I’m not saying there won’t be any problems after we leave. There may be continued violence. My guess is it would be less. When it’s not the focus of all of our attention. When it’s a question of whether Iraqis really want to just spend the next 15 years killing each other, I actually think that the situation could be better.
"Here’s the overall point: Even if it got somewhat worse, we have a greater responsibility to the American people to protect our national security. We’ve done a great deal for the Iraqis. To continue to deplete our ability to deal with the terrorist problem all the way from Indonesia to Afghanistan to Somalia to the middle east, to let all that go because of the possibility that things might get worse in Baghdad, that’s not a foreign policy; that’s just continuing to make the same mistakes. We need to take a chance on improving American national security by removing our troops and hopefully it will not get worse. We need to give it a chance."
“I’m going to play a little bit of a devil’s advocate here.”
“Let’s say per chance running for president is in the cards long term. Earlier when you were making your opening remarks you were discussing a few issues at hand. What I’ve seen as long as I’ve been alive is a lacking political platform. Taking religion out of it, and taking what I would call ‘value-driven issues’ and putting those aside, what are the issues that the American public and Wisconsin citizens need to be focusing on here and now?”
“It’s clear as a bell. It’s the same old thing you’d expect. Families want to be able to make it economically, and they will tell you, number one, health care. The health care system is destroying businesses and families that we have in this country. We have to be aggressive on that. I mentioned secondly, they’re tired of these energy costs. You see, these concerns weren’t just coming up when gas prices were high. This was going on earlier in the year when they were lower. This is an ongoing belief that we are hurting agriculture, we are hurting business, we are hurting families, we are hurting older people who may just want to be able to drive their car around, with an inability to get away from a dependence on foreign oil.
“(People) continue to suffer from the enormous job loss that occurred in the late 1990s and early years of this century. We have failed the American people with our trade policy, which hasn’t worked. And you can see that when you start adding conservative Republican senators from Southern states voting against these unfair trade agreements that the American people and especially people in Wisconsin deserve better. So it’s that sort of thing. As I mentioned, affordable housing, issues of that kind. If you’re really in a community whether large or small in Wisconsin, those are the things you’re going to hear the most about.
“So of course I’m going to talk about Iraq and I’m going to talk about foreign policy. I happen to think this fight against Al Qaeda and others is our number one priority. But if you talk only about those things and don’t talk about the meat and potatoes – realities for American families – then it isn’t a complete agenda. That is what I think is very, very important and is very, frankly, exciting to be able to say to people, ‘you know we know the Republicans have had the house for 12 years and have had the senate for a very long time, George Bush has been president for a very long time, I said it’s five months until we have the chance to undo and fix and move forward. And I find that excites people and gets them going.”
“So I’m kind of stuck on this Lieberman thing here. He was once the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic Party and aided Clinton to sort of help put the party in the middle of the spectrum through the Democratic Leadership Council
, are you and others pulling the party to the left? What happens if Lieberman wins as an independent? Doesn’t that undo the party as a whole?"
“Well obviously that would be a disappointment. It would really hurt our chances of getting a majority we want in the Senate, although Lieberman said he would organize as a Democrat. So it wouldn’t necessarily affect that. But the real question here is whether or not someone is trying to pull the party to the left or just trying to get the right answers. You have to understand those DLC people are the ones that gave us those trade agreements. They are the ones that coelesque with the big corporations to pass on those trade agreements that hurt America. It was the DLC that came up with the health care plan with Clinton that was so complicated that nobody could understand it. It’s the DLC that has cut off our ability to say things like, ‘Let’s get out of Iraq because it’s a bad idea.’ They take things, their consultants come into Washington and they come in the room and they say, ‘hey, you can’t say that.’ They’ll say you don’t support the troops. They instill fear in Democrats. What I want is us to get the right answer. Whether it’s liberal, or conservative or middle of the road.
“John McCain and I didn’t take conservative or progressive ideas when we came together on banning soft money. He’s a Conservative; I’m a progressive. We just said, this is corruption. When it comes to health care, doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative. Doesn’t matter. Everybody’s coming to the same conclusion. Any country worth its salt will guaranty health care for all its citizens. Not only for all its citizens but all the businesses, which are being ruined by the burden of health care costs so this isn’t about left or right. You know I’m known as the fiscal hawk in the senate…and I’m proud of that because that’s a Wisconsin value and it’s common sense. That’s who we should be, not somebody who just tries to be just a little bit different from the Republicans and hope that we win. I think that’s what they brought us and it hasn’t worked."
“You were talking about the generals and their assessment of Iraq and the possibility of civil war. General Peter Pace also said last week in that committee hearing, ‘Our enemy knows they cannot defeat us in battle. They do believe, however, that they can wear down our will as a nation.’ How do you balance all that? And what if Iraq becomes another Vietnam and if it does won’t that empower the enemy?”
“It’s the complete opposite. Nothing made these terrorists happier than when we made the mistake of going into Iraq. They knew exactly what it was: it was a trap. It was a place where we would go, get stuck with 140,000 troops, have a good part of the world turn on us because of an alleged and false claim that this was an attack on Islam. Allowed them to send terrorists from around the world to train on our people, which is exactly what they did and the previous head of the CIA had said that is the number one threat to America right now.
“In other words, the mistake would be to continue making the same mistake. They will wear us down if stay stuck there. If we become smarter about this, withdraw to the point where we have the ability to do special operations as we do in other places. I mean this is what we do in the rest of the world. We work with the Indonesians to deal with Imam Samudra, who’s connected with Al Qaeda. In Afghanistan we’re working with other countries; it’s not just an American operation.
“This is what the task is, it took all the resources for that, and I’ve heard people say it in those countries and in person, are drained into Iraq. It fits into their game plan. And there is no question that there game plan is to wear us down internationally. Iraq is the biggest gift that was ever given to those who are willing to do us harm. And the longer we stay there the more they benefit, the more they deplete our resources and our military and the less safe we are. So they’re just dead wrong about that.
“And I’ll tell you something. I was in Iraq with (General) Peter Pace; I was in Iraq with General (John) Abizaid, and I was in Iraq with General (George) Casey (Jr.) and they all said a year ago this wasn’t going to be a civil war and I just looked around me and went, ‘Well what do you call this?’ And now they admit it. There’s too much cover up.
“There’s too much cover up of the truth in Iraq. And the truth is this isn’t working. Let’s cut our losses there and make sure that we focus on a more intelligent strategy which will include doing things in Iraq. I mean look at what happened with Al Zarqawi. That wasn’t a land operation; that was a special operations deal where they got intelligence and they came in and dropped the bombs. That sort of work should continue.
“It doesn’t require 140,000 people to be sitting there for people to take potshots at.”
“Staying in the Middle East but shifting a little bit, could you talk a little bit about the situation with Israel and Hezbollah and what you think should be done there if Israel is appropriately in Lebanon attacking these terrorists and how that may parallel or not parallel and how that relates to the United States.”
“Well the first thing you need to do and this is really hard for everybody, is to distinguish each of these situations. Afghanistan is not the same as Iraq is not the same as Somalia is not the same as Israel and Hezbollah and Lebanon. People tend to lump it into one thing. Republicans like to say this is the third World War. I suppose you can argue that, but what that really does is simplify things and it makes it hard to achieve a cessation of the violence which is absolutely essential between Israel and Lebanon.
“I find this is a subject where people are so passionate on every side that the conversation almost breaks up immediately if you’re trying to talk about who’s responsible and who isn’t. And I’m happy to do that if you want, but I think the best thing for me to do as an American policy maker is to talk about what we should be doing. This call for a special envoy that both Republicans and Democrats have talked about, to have a prominent American appointed to this who will work on this 24 hours a day, that isn’t just a window dressing; it’s critical. Right now you have our president and our very talented secretary of state who I think is very able. (But) she’s not in the Middle East. They’re worrying about Iran; they’re worrying about North Korea; they’re worrying about Iraq. She doesn’t have the time to spend all the time on this.
“We need somebody like James Baker, or Colin Powell (both former secretaries of state) or (U.S. Sen.) George Mitchell (a Democrat) if you want to create a team who will do this every day. Because our enemies really do mean us harm, sense we are not as engaged in this as we should be.
“We of course know Israel has a right to defend itself. We of course know Israel should not have to tolerate, and will not tolerate having … thrown into their communities. We wouldn’t tolerate, they wouldn’t, nobody would tolerate it. Nonetheless I think it’s in Israel’s interests, Lebanon’s interest and America’s interest that we figure out a way to have this end as soon as possible and in as fair a way as possible.
“But I think it won’t happen unless the American involvement is much more intense than it’s been.”
“Not completely staying on Iraq, but staying on an issue that really divides this country, my question involves this cliché of compromise and meeting each other in the middle. We’ve very much a two party system – one or the other. And usually examples are given from both extremes, the far left, the far right. How do we bridge the gap and is that moderate, is that middle ground, whatever label we attach to it, how do we get Americans out there and actively thinking about how we can resolve our differences whether they be extreme right or extreme left and come together as a country?”
“By not getting hung up on this idea of ‘moving to the center.’ In Washington, moving to the center means all the special interests get together and cut a deal. That’s what it is. And that doesn’t mean that sometimes it isn’t going to be a compromise on the merits, for example this health care thing. It was hard for me to propose a bill that wouldn’t guarantee health care in every state. It was hard for me to not make it absolutely mandatory because I believe it should be. But in order to engage Republicans, I said, alright; let’s figure out a way we can agree on an experiment that we could both look at. That to me is not sort of cut and split the difference. It sort of acknowledging each others’ ideological differences and trying to come up with a practical solution.
"It isn’t a question of giving up your beliefs. It’s being willing to engage in good faith experiments to try and figure out who’s right. And I think that is the way to go. The answer is not trying to be very cautious and do everything in the middle. The answer is to have both ideas and to see if we can get people of very different philosophies to agree that a bold idea is a good idea."
“So if you run for president, you have to raise a lot of money. So how does a campaign reformer like yourself, raise a lot of money without getting swallowed up by the corrupt system?”
“Well, in 1989, I took a young reporter with me in my van around the state."
“I wonder who that is.”
“And he asked me the same thing. He said, ‘how does a guy that has no money running against a wealthy congressman from Milwaukee and a wealthy businessman from Milwaukee against an incumbent Republican, how is he going to do this without becoming co-opted by the special interests?’ You were the reporter and I told you, money doesn’t do it. Money isn’t the answer. Ideas and grassroots organizing and raising dollars in smaller amounts that generates excitement is the way to go. Howard Dean showed, even though the campaign didn’t end the way he and many others wanted it, he showed that frankly a lot of money can be raised from a lot of active people who now have something that I of course didn’t have in those days: the Internet, direct mail and some of these things.
“We saw the recent reports that Craig Gilbert wrote about. I didn’t even realize it. But he raised that I raised the most funds of that kind of support of any candidate other than Hilary Clinton.
“So if I choose to run, I’m confident that there will be more than enough funds to support the kind of campaign that I would run. I’d be embarrassed if I were running a campaign where the only guy with the money and I was buying the election. I just can’t – that’s not me. And so I would be thrilled to have less money and a better organization and more excitement. That’s how I’d do it.
“I’m not saying I would win this time. It’s a little bit bigger fight than the one you and I were talking about but after the state senate, the state of Wisconsin seemed like a pretty big bite. So that’s how we look at it.”
“One month from tomorrow, we will mark the five year, five years since Sept. 11. Do you think we are safer today? Or is it a false sense of security?”
“I don’t even know if people have a false sense of security. If you turn on the television, and you’re not watching the shopping channel, I don’t know how you’d have a sense of security. I’m not saying nothing’s happened. What I am saying is historic opportunities to do it right have failed. Inadequate resources domestically for homeland security is really part of the problem.
“But the biggest problem is after a rather good start was made by carefully focusing on Afghanistan, and getting all of the other Islamic countries and others to join us and waiting a month, sort of having – I remember the African countries I’ve worked with with large Islamic populations really, sincerely wanting to help – this was all a push away. And it made those individuals meek within their own countries to help the United States. We lost that because of this mistake.
“And I believe this administration for whatever reason doesn’t see the whole picture. They don’t see who attacked us on 9/11. Being on the intelligence committee only confirms what I’ve already sensed: that this is a much more complicated, intricate issue involving groups that have been mentioned all the way from Indonesia to the former Soviet Republics. We all know about Madrid, and London, Paris and Canada, this is something that is a very different kind of problem than the administration even thinks it is. So they aren’t thinking about it the right way.
“And I’m not the only one saying this. There’s book after book being written including by people who were right there in the administration who are talking about how they just don’t get it. They see it through a prism of some other time, some other challenge. They see it as a military issue rather than an issue that involves intelligence, diplomacy and long-term strategies of reaching out to people all over the world.
“So the fact is I think we are less safe. And thank God we haven’t had the attack here in the United States. That I recognize and I’m grateful for that. But tell that to the people that have been, including Americans, who have been killed in many other communities around the world where terrorist attacks have continued and probably will continue.”
“Returning a little bit to the campaign finance issue. It has been some years now since the efforts you put through with Sen. McCain went into effect, yet we’re in the middle of another season where simply there’s a lot of money being spent by outside groups that is not disclosed, campaigns themselves – the cost has gone way up. Do you think your effort was a success?”
“It did exactly what it was supposed to do. And if you look at what we said all along, this is a modest first step which did what it was supposed to do. All McCain-Feingold was supposed to do was make it so members of Congress, senators and others couldn’t call up corporate CEOs, labor leaders and individuals and ask them for $100,000, $500,000 or $1 million. That is now a federal crime.
“Any body who’s doing that might have a Cunningham new for a roommate. That’s not happened. That’s one of the reasons these trade agreements passed. Because that kind of money was floating around. We have eliminated that from the system. We won. The Supreme Court agreed with us. That is done.
“What you’re referring to, in part, is these 527s. Now that relates to the 1974 post-Watergate law. I believe that law plainly prohibits these 527s from doing what they’re doing. Sen. McCain and I have litigation which we are winning that will prove that. That will order them to stop once that litigation is done. But in the mean time we are also offering legislation that would make it even clearer, although I don’t think it needs to be, that they can’t use that type of approach to basically gain the system.
“In the end though, as I’ve said, all of that is only a small part of what needs to be done. What needs to be done is a guarantee to public financing of all campaigns – state and federal. We used to have a successful system for the presidential. I have a bill in that would fix that, and make it up to date. It has succeeded in Arizona and in Maine where a majority of the legislature there is now elected by public financing. We’ve never had it for congressional races. One of my dreams is to somehow convince Sen. McCain or President McCain to join me on this idea of public financing. Because I do think that’s the ultimate way to solve many of these problems."
“As you already know the student vote is very low. Anytime there is an election or any kind of call for a turn out that can influence the outcome of an election, your best bet is on the senior citizens. My question to you is how do you reach out, teach (students) this is how a democracy is supposed to work and this is how you should look at things in order to be active and make a difference in the American government?”
“Well, maybe I’m in a different position than most political figures. Lord knows I’m grateful for the senior vote, especially as my generation gets closer to that age. For me, we kid around about our backbone t-shirts. My backbone has been students every time. Students have always been there for my races in huge numbers on all the campuses in Wisconsin.
“They have been the driving force behind the energy of my campaign. Now you would know better than I would, because you’re young and I’m not anymore. But in 2004, I couldn’t believe the amount of young people that were working on the campaigns. It was the best I have seen. And maybe that was just an illusion to me, maybe it’s because I was a candidate. But I felt that this generation which you’re a part of is more engaged in the political process than a number of previous generations which were engaged in issues such as sweat shop issues and other stuff. They were turned off by electoral politics.
"So you would be able to correct me on this, but I’m feeling kind of good about the way people are acting…"
“I'd like to follow up if I may..."
"Please, follow up."
"A 40 percent turn out rate is what the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee had at the last presidential election. That’s still less than half of the students enrolled at that university who are eligible to vote. What I’m saying is how do you get that number higher? I look at that number and say that’s not good enough…”
“First of all you have to take your campaigns on to the campuses. The candidates shouldn’t just wait for the students to find some other spot. I’ve noticed a resurgence for example of the College Democrats at a lot of places is much stronger. Secondly, you have to have not only the general issues and I find students passionately in agreement with me on things like the USA PATRIOT Act and civil liberties, you have to have positions that will attract students.
"And then you have to have positions that will attract students. And then you have to have positions on things that really matter to students. In particular the cost of higher education. An that’s a sad story all over Wisconsin. I was told by the chancellor of UW-Stout the other day when I did a town meeting up in Menomonee that the average debt of any student from Stout after they graduated was $18,000. And these are a lot of kids who are from families that do not have money. Very little money.
"This is unacceptable. We have to make a commitment to not just increase but dramatically increase Pell Grants. The Pell Grants were starting to move under Clinton. They were under $3,000 and we got them a little over $4,000. But the program was set up to cover 80 percent of the cost. And so I have proposed that we by the end of the decade that we try to get this up to $10,000. This isn’t just handing money to kids saying here’s some money we want you to support us. When I was applying to college years ago, nobody said, ‘oh I wonder how much debt you’ll have to go into.’ Maybe this is something I remember incorrectly, but as I remember if you got into a school you got to go.
“So I consider this a major denial of the American dream. That people your age have to face this kind of debt. As candidates we talk about this every day. Because why should I have had the opportunity to go to University of Wisconsin and have the thrills of that campus and that experience and not worry about money. Why should you have to worry about if you’re going to be so scratched with debt you’ll have to figure out what you’re going to do once you’re out of school.”
“Thank you senator. I’m getting signs from our media panel that all of their questions are answered.”