The Dishonesty of Non-Politicians
Voters don’t know Feingold’s Republican challenger
Ron Johnson very well. In fact, Wisconsin
voters wouldn’t know Johnson if he bit them.
Most of them had never heard of Johnson until a few
months ago. Many still have not.
Despite that, state Republicans decided Johnson
would make a dandy candidate for the U.S. Senate because he’s a millionaire
willing to spend lots of money to become a senator.
Most voters need a little more than that to go on,
however. And finding out what Johnson thinks about anything is a lot harder
than you might imagine.
Since he’s never held public office, there is no
record of where Johnson stands or what he believes. His entire public career
apparently consists of making a couple of speeches at tea party rallies.
But it gets even more complicated than that. Every
time the Feingold campaign manages to nail down something Johnson has said that
demonstrates a clear political difference from Feingold, Johnson either
reverses his previous position or denies he ever believed what he said in the
It’s become a pattern.
This first came up on the issue of oil drilling.
There are good reasons to wonder where Johnson stands on oil drilling since
he’s disclosed he owns stock valued between $116,000 and $315,000 in BP, the
oil company giant whose blown-out well spewed hundreds of millions of gallons
of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
(Johnson also has given conflicting accounts as to
whether he will or won’t sell his BP stock.)
In an interview with the political website
WisPolitics, Johnson was asked whether he wanted to open up more of the United
States to oil drilling, specifically either the Great Lakes or Alaska’s Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge.
Johnson’s response: “We have to be realistic … and I
think we have to get the oil where it is, but we need to do it responsibly.”
After Feingold began running television ads
attacking Johnson’s willingness “to hand over the Great
Lakes to the oil companies,” Johnson suddenly developed a
catastrophic hearing deficiency.
Johnson claimed he didn’t hear the portion of the
question when the interviewer asked: “Would you support drilling in the Great Lakes, for example, if there was oil found there?”
Now Johnson says he doesn’t support allowing oil
companies to despoil Lake Michigan, a more conventional position for a Wisconsin politician.
Taking Both Sides—Again
The same pattern of Johnson taking both sides of an
issue has arisen around gun rights.
It’s an issue on which Feingold’s core beliefs often
conflict with those of his most liberal supporters. But no one can accuse
Feingold of simply pandering to Wisconsin gun
owners for political purposes.
Feingold supported the rights of gun owners before
he ever had a political career. As a UW-Madison student in the ’70s, at the same
time he was developing his opposition to open-ended foreign wars, Feingold
wrote his senior thesis on the Second Amendment, concluding that the
Constitution guaranteed gun ownership as an individual right.
It was the broadest possible interpretation, one
that the Supreme Court itself would not embrace until decades later under the
gung-ho pro-gun Roberts court.
Anyone concerned about the proliferation of guns had
to admire Johnson’s political courage in calling for more restrictions on guns
before a conservative group in Jefferson
Asked what gun restrictions he would support,
Johnson said: “You know, like we license cars and stuff… I don’t have a real
problem in minimal licensing and stuff. I mean I don’t.”
Those of us who consider Johnson’s position common
sense were happy to hear a Republican candidate brave enough to express it.
But not so fast. Once again, as soon as Feingold
began running ads criticizing Johnson’s position, Johnson completely reversed
Johnson issued his new, improved position on guns:
“I do not, nor will I ever, support licensing or registration of firearms.”
Wonder who that guy was who did.
Johnson explained that taking the opposite position
was just a mistake made by someone who was not “a slick politician” like
Feingold who “twists words for a living.”
It’s the guiding theory of the tea parties that
there is nothing more weaselly than a career politician. They argue that
anybody off the street would be preferable to a career politician who will say
anything to get elected.
Yet, no one in Wisconsin has ever been confused about where
Sen. Russ Feingold has stood on any issue.
It’s the non-politician Ron Johnson who keeps
putting out positions on both sides of the issues until he can figure out which
one might attract the most votes.