Will Feingold challenge Obama?

When Russ Feingold alluded to 2010 in his election night concession speech, most observers assumed he meant Wisconsin's other U.S. Senate seat, now occupied by Herb Kohl. Since Kohl is no spring chicken, the "conventionally wise" speculated that if he doesn't seek another term, Feingold would be the Democrat's fallback choice.

Let me suggest something else, a scenario that could have business implications. What if Feingold is thinking about challenging President Obama from the left?

How could the President get any father left, you ask? Well, easily, and on a host of issues that political progressives expected him to depart from his predecessor, George W. Bush.

What if Feingold used these issues in a Presidential bid, not just to wrest the nomination from a sitting president, but to keep him from moving to the center, as Bill Clinton did following his mid-term disaster?

Feingold's "Fab Five" might include a mixture of domestic and foreign policy issues:

  • No public option as part of health care reform. Feingold could argue that if the President was going to spend political capital on health care reform, which he most assuredly did in 2010, it should have included the so-called public option in which the government gets in the healthy insurance game. Progressives believed that would have kept health insurance companies honest, but the President, after initially supporting the concept, backed away from it — much to the disappointment of his base. Feingold could argue that it represents a lost opportunity and illustrates a disturbing timidity on the part of Obama.
  • Guantanamo Bay is still open. While mainstream America has few issues with the controversial terrorist detention facility, to President Obama's base it represents the worst in George W. Bush's terror war. As a candidate, Obama railed on allegations of torture at the facility, saying they damaged America's image abroad. When domestic political pressure and the NIMBY instinct threatened plans to build an alternative in the Midwest, the administration appeared to lose its determination to close Gitmo. Feingold could exploit this issue and …
  • The lack of any move to repeal, or at least amend, the Patriot Act, which remains an abomination to civil libertarians. Feingold has enormous credibility on this issue, having cast the lone dissenting vote against it in the U.S. Senate. He could use the issue as another illustration of Obama's timidity.
  • No card check. Organized labor wants this one badly, and there is no chance of passage in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Card Check could be enacted in the lame-duck session of Congress, or Obama could still try to implement it through administrative fiat, as he has threatened to do with Cap-and-Trade, but Feingold could force the issue with a left-flank challenge. Neither scenario would help ease whatever uncertainty exists in the small business space.
  • Obama's increasing interest in foreign trade. The President's recent trip to India, the site of "off-shored" American jobs, cannot please organized labor. While not billed as a trade mission, the trip did explore expanded economic relationships between the U.S. and India. During his 2010 Senate race, Feingold made an issue of "unfair" trade deals, and Obama may be leaving himself vulnerable to that line of reasoning. That's not necessarily a good development for the economy.

Keeping Him in Line

If nothing else, the mere threat of a Feingold challenge could keep Obama on a left-leaning leash, which virtually invites gridlock over the next two years. That could mean there will be no compromise on taxes and other issues of interest to business, just as the most encouraging jobs report in months provides some hope that the economy might actually be gaining traction.

Remember, presidential elections now begin right after the mid-term elections; at least they did after the last one. I still remember Obama entering the race on a cold January (2007) day in Springfield, Ill., forcing Hillary Clinton to declare her candidacy sooner than she preferred. We may know about Mr. Feingold's inclinations sooner rather than later.

Sign up for the free IB Update — your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices and the names you need to know. Click here.