Russ Feingold: An example of courage and conviction in the Senate (Sen. John McCain)

I will also miss the daily experience of Russ Feingold’s friendship, and the qualities that distinguish his friendship – his thoughtfulness, kindness, humor and loyalty.  I have treasured that friendship all the years we have served together, and while friendship does not end with a Senate career, I will sorely miss his presence here.  I will miss seeing him every day.  I will miss traveling with him.  I will miss the daily reminder of what a blessing it is to have a true friend in Washington.

Our first encounter with one another was in a Senate debate in which we argued about an aircraft carrier, somewhat heatedly, if memory serves.  Russ thought the United States Navy had one too many.  I thought we didn’t have enough.  It was, I’m sorry to admit, not a very considerate welcome on my part to a new colleague, whom I would soon have many reasons to admire.  But to Russ’ credit, he didn’t let my discourtesy stand in the way of working together on issues where we were in agreement.  And to my good fortune, he didn’t let it stand in the way of our friendship either.

We are of different parties, and our political views are often opposed.  We’ve had many debates on many issues.  But where we agreed – on wasteful spending, ethics reform, campaign finance reform and other issues – it was a privilege to fight alongside and not against Russ Feingold.

We don’t often hear anymore about members of Congress who distinguish themselves by having the courage of their convictions; who risk their personal interests for what they believe is in the public interest.  I’ve seen many examples of it here, but the cynicism of our times – among the political class and the media and the voters tends to miss examples of political courage or dismiss them as probable frauds or, at best, exceptions that prove the rule.  In his time in the Senate, Russ Feingold, every day and in every way, had the courage of his convictions.  And though I am quite a few years older than Russ, and have served in this body longer than he has, I confess I have always felt he was my superior in that cardinal virtue.

We were both up for re-election in 1998.  I had an easy race. Russ had a difficult one.  As many of our colleagues will remember, Russ and I opposed soft money, the unlimited corporate and labor donations to political parties that we believed were compromising the integrity of Congress, and we were a nuisance on the subject.  Russ’ opponent in 1998 was outspending him on television, and the race became tighter.  It reached a point where most observers, Democrats and Republicans, expected him to lose.  The Democratic Party pleaded with Russ to let it spend soft money on his behalf.  Russ refused.  He risked his seat, the job he loved, because his convictions were more important to him than any personal success.  I think he is one of the most admirable people I’ve ever met in my life.

We’ve had a lot experiences together.  We fought together for many things – important things.  And we’ve fought many times on opposite sides.  We’ve been honored together and scorned together.  We’ve traveled abroad together.  We couldn’t be farther apart in our views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we traveled there together as well, to gain knowledge that would inform our views and challenge them.  We’ve listened to each other; debated each other; defended each other; joked and commiserated together.

And in my every experience with Russ Feingold, in agreement and disagreement, in pleasant times and difficult ones, in heated arguments and in the relaxed conversation of friends, he was an exemplary public servant; a gentleman; good company; an irreplaceable friend; a kind man; a man to be admired.

I can’t do justice in these remarks to all of Russ’ many qualities or express completely how much I think this institution benefited from his service here and how much I benefited from knowing him.  I lack the eloquence.  I don’t think he is replaceable.  We would all do well to keep his example in our minds as we serve our constituents and country and convictions.  We couldn’t have a better role model. 

I have every expectation we will remain good friends long after we have both ended our Senate careers.  But I will miss him here.  Every day.  And I will try harder to become half the public servant he is.  Because his friendship is an honor, and honors come with responsibilities.

God bless you, my friend.