WASHINGTON -- After winning, at the relatively tender age of 51, a third Senate term in 2004 with 55 percent of Wisconsin's vote, five points better than John Kerry's winning percentage, and carrying 27 of the 45 Wisconsin counties that President Bush carried, Russ Feingold went to play golf -- on a public course, this fastidious populist stresses -- in Greenville, Ala. That town might hereafter be known as the birthplace of Feingold's epiphany.
Feingold says, implausibly, that ``I don't think about it'' -- seeking the Democrats' 2008 presidential nomination -- ``very much.'' But he does brood about a ``50-state strategy'' for Democrats. He found many Alabamians with problems common to Americans everywhere, and receptive to ``progressive'' solutions.
Well, yes. Hundreds of thousands of Alabamians always vote Democratic. John Kerry won 693,933. Al Gore, 692,611. Even George McGovern won 256,923. There are ``progressives'' everywhere, and in the Deep South there still are ``yellow dog Democrats'' who would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket. But Democratic presidential candidates have lost Alabama in 10 of the last 11 elections -- a Georgian carried the state in 1976. Today, by the time a Democratic presidential aspirant has genuflected at all the altars erected by ``the groups'' -- the organizations of liberal activists -- he or she is disqualified from turning red states blue.
A good liberal -- the Senate's most pure, according to the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, whose rating of his career (97) is higher than that of Ted Kennedy (90), Barbara Boxer (92), John Kerry (93) and Hillary Clinton (95) -- Feingold is a conscientious recycler. Of chimeras. For example, he favors energy ``independence,'' a goal that has steadily receded in the more than three decades since President Nixon endorsed it.
He also favors fiscal responsibility. His office wall is adorned with a large display of the 82-point -- yes, 82 -- plan for reducing the deficit, a plan featured in his first Senate campaign in 1992, when Ross Perot was helpfully rampant on the subject of balanced budgets. But fiscal rectitude, a faith constantly avowed but rarely constraining, thrills few liberals -- or conservatives, on current evidence.