a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Finding the needle, discarding the war – the second Feingold-Johnson debate

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 13th, 2010

While the Citizens United/ exchange between Feingold and Johnson was the highlight of Monday’s debate for me (see Free speech for Me, Inc. but not for thee – the second Feingold-Johnson debate), the Afghanistan/national security part was extremely interesting as well. 

Let’s go to the transcript I’ve compiled; all time indications are for the online rebroadcast provided by the Wisconsin web site.


About midway through the debate, journalist Pam Warnke posed the questions, “Can the US afford the current strategy abroad?  What specific kinds of policies do you support that will bring about the successful conclusion to our military presence and also keep Americans safe?” Feingold responded that at a cost of a hundred billion dollars a year, no, we couldn’t afford the current strategy and recommended setting a timetable for withdrawal.  Johnson by contrast, was very much against setting a timeline — and very much for bashing Feingold for allegedly “weakening” the U.S.:

Johnson (35:53): We do need to recognize that we are still under the threat of terrorism. Certainly what we’re trying to do Afghanistan is deny sanctuary for those terrorists.  That’s where they launched the attacks on 9/11. And certainly we need to be mindful of where else they may be hiding.  We need a very strong intelligence capability. And I’m not sure how Senator Feingold has tried to weaken our intelligence capability in his career (Feingold laughs).

Feingold parried the baseless attack easily — and notice how he did it:

Feingold (37:21): Well if I could respond to this notion that…
Moderator: Just a second Senator; Pam Warnke, you have a followup?
Warnke: With all of that being said, what does it mean to win Afghanistan?
Feingold: This has been the mistake of the last nine years.  It isn’t about invading one country after the other, it’s about destroying an organization that’s present in many countries in the world.  So it’s not about winning in Afghanistan, it’s about destroying Al Qaeda, wherever they might be.

And the notion that — Mr. Johnson, who I respect what he does in his business, but Ron, for five years I’ve been on the Intelligence Committee, and I’ve worked day and night to try to figure out exactly where this threat is.  People in the military, people in the intelligence community consider me to be the person that’s worked the hardest to understand the threat of Al Qaeda in places like Africa. So the notion that you dismiss that as ‘weakening’ America?  I’ll tell you something Ron, that’s just dead wrong and it’s unfair. …

What Johnson meant by ‘weakening intelligence’ was highly likely to be Feingold’s efforts to prevent gutting FISA’s due process and civil liberties protections with the FISA Amendment Act.  But Feingold’s response skipped over the (very valid) point that “hoovering up” every conceivable scrap of communication does little to advance the cause of anti-terrorist intelligence — instead of finding the needle, that just grows the haystack. Instead, Feingold emphasized actually finding the needle.  That is liable to be just the kind of straightforward answer middle of the road Wisconsinites — and Americans — will accept.

Goal Thermometer


Great news on two fronts: first, the Feingold campaign’s internal polling shows Feingold now statistically tied with Johnson among “definite voters.” The reason appears to have to do with Johnson’s description of manufacturing decline in Wisconsin and elsewhere as “creative destruction” — something that may earn him points at the next Ayn Rand book club meeting, but doesn’t sit so well with Wisconsinites actually trying to put food on the table.

Second, as you can see on our “Get FISA Right with Russ Feingold” thermometer, our fundraising drive has nearly reached our goal of $1500 for Russ!  Now I think we can do even better than $1500, but that means we need to get there first.  If yours is one of the 36(!!) donations so far — thanks so very much!  If you haven’t — here’s your chance to put us over the top!


Finally, you can help the Feingold campaign as a phonebanker — even from out of state — with GOTV calls already underway to supporters.  To get more information, contact or call 414-727-5682 for more information and to schedule your training conference call.

One Response to “Finding the needle, discarding the war – the second Feingold-Johnson debate”

  1. Finding the needle, discarding the war – the second Feingold-Johnson debate « Get FISA Right Says:

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