Anyone who thought former US Senator Russ Feingold was quitting politics with his announcement that he would not run for office in 2012 missed the point of the Wisconsin Democrat’s decision. Feingold was not abandoning the fight for progressive values, he was signaling his determination to carry that fight forward as a citizen activist who promises to be a thorn in the side of the political elites of both parties.

That was abundantly clear Tuesday, as Feingold damped up a campaign Democratic members of the new Congressional “super-committee” on debt and deficit issues to commit to represent working families rather than corporations.

Feingold and members of the national activist group he formed after leaving the Senate last year, Progressives United, are petitioning Democratic super-committee members to embrace the following priorities as they negotiate with Republican members of the committee:

1. Ensure millionaires, billionaires and big corporations pay their fair share of debt reduction,

2. No cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits,

3. No giveaways to corporate interests,

4. Or no deal.

As Feingold explains it: “Numbers one through three are important policy priorities, but number four is equally important. If we don’t get our policy priorities, Democrats need to be ready to walk away from the deal. You can guarantee extremists on the other side will continue to push relentlessly to give even more to corporations and put even more of the burden on the middle class. We have to fight harder than they will.”

“The spotlight of the nation is on this debate. In the super committee, Democrats, Republicans, and corporations are deciding whether and how to fundamentally reshape our society and our values. We need to make sure that we are part of the debate as well,” says Feingold in a new message to Progressives United supporters and allies nationwide. “If we let them reshape our society without our input, we’re going to deeply regret the outcome. Progressives must make our voices loud and forceful in this discussion.”

Feingold, who knows the Congress as well as anyone but who brings the skepticism of a progressive populist to discussions about how to influence it, is right to focus on the Democrats who have been appointed to the super-committee. If they do not stand strong, and if they are not supported in that stand, the balance will tip to the reactionary Republicans who have joined the committee with a no-compromise stance.

Feingold is not running for anything. But he he practicing smart politics by leading the fight to give DC Democrats something they are going to need in this fall’s deliberations: a backbone.

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