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April 5, 2006
Feingold Claims The Fringe Left

Russ Feingold has decided to embrace the far-left fever swamp in hopes of building momentum for his run at the Presidency in 2008, and yesterday announced his support for gay marriage as another step in that strategy. The Washington Post reports that Feingold blames Republicans for using the controversy as a wedge issue, but also notes that his fellow Democrats have not lined up in support of gender-neutral marriage either:

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a prospective 2008 presidential candidate, said yesterday that he thinks bans on same-sex marriages have no place in the nation's laws.

Feingold said in an interview that he was motivated to state his position on one of the most divisive social issues in the country after being asked at a town hall meeting Sunday about a pending amendment to the Wisconsin state constitution to ban same-sex marriages.

Feingold called the amendment "a mean-spirited attempt" to single out gay men and lesbians for discrimination and said he would vote against it. But he went further, announcing that he favors legalizing same-sex marriages.

That puts him at odds with many prominent Democratic politicians who support gay rights but not same-sex marriage. Should Feingold decide to run for the party's presidential nomination in 2008, his position would put him to the left of many likely rivals.

Apparently Feingold intends on positioning himself thusly, which is why he went further than the question required. He wants to signal that the far left can absolutely count on him to carry their platform into the 2008 convention. It's not a bad idea in the primaries, and he will be able to harness the money-raising power of the MoveOn and I-ANSWER crowd early enough to be able to keep them from financing any of his more moderate rivals.

In terms of actually winning primaries, let alone a general election, Feingold has made a mistake, however. Bans on gender-neutral marriage garner large majorities wherever contested, up to 70% of the vote in some places. Feingold can blame Republicans all he wants, but those numbers show a significant number in his own party support the traditional notions of marriage as well. Nowhere is that support strongest than in the African-American community, the demographic with the strongest ties to religion in the party. The truth is that the GOP doesn't need to exploit the issue to create a wedge; the wedge exists whether politicians like Feingold recognize it or not.

And Feingold's position creates a problem for Democrats that Kucinich did not. The latter had always been seen as a fringe candidate, a man who stuck around long past his expiration date in the 2004 primaries mostly to provide some comic relief. Feingold, as a Senator, has a higher political profile and more impact on the party's image. At a moment when the Democrats want to paint themselves as a serious voice in both foreign and domestic policy, one of their leading lights has done his best to embrace the radical and hysterical, starting with his censure motion and continuing with his Baghdad demand for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Now he takes one of the least-popular domestic policy positions and reminds the American electorate why they cannot trust Democrats for responsible representation of their views.

CQ readers know that I'm rather agnostic about the notion of legalizing gay civil marriages. If a state legalizes such unions through legislation, then the majority will have spoken and it will cause me no heartache. That's relatively easy to say since even the most liberal electorates have rejected such legislation, including my home state of California. It's such a slam dunk that Democrats do well to stay out of its way. Instead, Feingold embraces the radical, and threatens to drag his party into electoral suicide -- once again.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 5, 2006 4:52 AM

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