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The Badger Herald

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Calling out Feingold’s ‘phoniness’ might just be what Johnson’s campaign needs

Most humanizing, empassioned speech the senator has used
Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., had his most humanizing moment last Friday.

“I don’t respect phoniness, ” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Yes, he was talking about his Democratic challenger former Sen. Russ Feingold, but Johnson said more about himself in this moment than about his opponent.


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To put these comments into context, leading up to this one-liner, Johnson was asked about his body language and respect, or lack thereof, toward Feingold during a debate between the two.

“While [Feingold] was off at Harvard and Oxford, I was washing dishes for $1.45 an hour,” Johnson said. I was leaving high school a year early so I could work full time at a shipping table and maintain that full time work when I went to college.”

I’ve never had too much respect for Johnson in the past, assuming he was merely a cog in the Republican Party machine. But with this statement, he finally brought some passion into his politics and showed who he is. This is essential  because his story is so relatable to many Wisconsinites.

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What he has done, i.e. worked since a young age and put himself through college to give his children a better life than he had, is what my parents have done and I’m in the midst of doing. I don’t think many people, especially those from rural Wisconsin, would describe their family as any different. Frankly, Johnson needed to highlight this fact sooner.

Describing Johnson as monotone is a vast understatement. He is measured and boring to a fault. His whiteboard and claims to be a Washington outsider are played out and what won him the election in 2010, but he needed a new rallying call. Portraying Feingold as a phony might just be what his campaign needs.

Of course, these comments have already been taken out of the context of the question and focused on heavily. Johnson has added to it, making claims at campaign stops throughout the weekend that Feingold is a “phony.”

Feingold’s response, while claiming he wouldn’t “get into that sort of thing,” did exactly that Monday when he said to reporters in Middleton, “When a politician feels like he’s probably going to lose, he gets a little shaky on that and starts maybe doing some things he shouldn’t do.”

First point, the last time I checked the latest polling numbers, Johnson only trailed Feingold by two points.

Second point, Johnson should most definitely bring up the fact that Feingold was missing in action over the past six years, especially in the context of Feingold’s phoniness. Johnson has every right, and the duty, to question Feingold’s commitment to Wisconsinites, seeing as Feingold said in the past six years he’s started “to feel like a guy from Wisconsin who is leading a life that is similar to other people.”

In an increasingly heated senate race, Johnson’s comments express a true concern about Feingold, something that he can’t brush off as uncivil or not appropriate campaign rhetoric.

It’s obvious there is more than just a campaign going on here. Johnson and Feingold actively dislike each other.

Johnson articulated Feingold’s problem with him appropriately when he said, “[Feingold] seems to have a problem … that someone actually succeeded and achieved the American Dream.”

Aaron Reilly ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in social work and economics.

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