Our next President will be…

Someone other than Wisconsin’s Russell Feingold, who, joining Virginia’s Mark Warner, just announced that he would not be seeking the Democratic nomination in 2008. In my exceedingly rare “who in public life has sufficient principles and character to satisfy my insanely exacting standards to justify supporting them for President”, Feingold, a man who voted against the latest Iraq war, a man who nearly lost his own senate seat by adhering to his own McCain-Feingold Act principles and refusing to accept money from Political Action Committees, a man who voted for the confirmation of John Ashcroft on the grounds that, procedurally, the President is entitled to his cabinet (assuming the nominee never cheated on the nanny tax)… was one of those rare birds who cut it. Others would include the sainted Al Gore, Barbara Boxer, and maybe occasional members of the House (perhaps Henry Waxman… or not.)
No matter. Feingold’s principled stands rendered his ascendance to any office beyond the realm of progressive Wisconsin… pretty damned unlikely. So it is just as well he realized that the Democratic wins in both the House and Senate present a legislative opportunity, but more to the point, they present a high profile showdown– the big-time, big-money Democratic candidates (Hillary for sure, Al Gore maybe, Barack Obama certainly a possibility… hopefully Kerry’s recent gaffe can dissuade him but Edwards may be back…)– will be there, and someone like Russ Feingold would be crowded out, rather quickly, in any event.
Worse: to hold power, the Democrats will actually have to propose policies that smack more of being popular (and to some extent, sensible) than of being traditionally liberal. This means that principled progressivistas, like Feingold, will be somewhat more marginalized in a presidential context, but in a legislative context, can try to shape the sensible, long-term helpful policies that, for the first time in twelve years, might actually pass both houses of Congress.
So… we can take Feingold at his word. He sees an opportunity to make a difference in the legislature. And he has wisely concluded that even his “outside” chance at a presidential nomination, which probably required even greater national polarization, had gone to the “almost inconceivable” category.
And there we have it. As others have said better than me, it’s not as if we who oppose the short-sighted self-dealing of the President and his (all-too-often-criminal) minions are groovy granola hippy liberals… most of us would, at one time in our adulthoods, have been considered moderates or centrists before “you’re with us or you’re against us” or even “you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” became the prevailing sentiment…
Which is why the new Democratic incoming class includes a lot of military veterans (including at least two who held the rank of admiral), and a lot of candidates who ran well to the right of liberal bete noire Joe Lieberman. They aren’t there to restore 1960’s and 1970’s era social welfare policies… or even to roll back NAFTA, CAFTA, etc.
This one would seem to be about good government. And if managed that way, look for the slim majorities in both houses to expand, and a Democratic president (who isn’t Feingold or Warner… or Kerry, of course).