MANCHESTER, N.H. – Despite Republican scandals, Democrats will not win back majorities in Congress by default, U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold told New Hampshire Democrats on Saturday.
Speaking at the state party's annual convention, Feingold, D-Wisconsin, rejected the idea that Democrats should just lay low and let Republicans self-destruct.
"Some say 'we've got it made ... let's not rock the boat,"' he said, "but I believe that's exactly how we lost in 2002 and 2004. We won't win by default. We won't win by just running out the clock. We'll only win if we show we are willing to discuss tough subjects or else we will be perceived as weak and full of fear."
Regaining the majority will be meaningless unless Democrats develop the backbone necessary to stand up for their principles, said Feingold, considered a possible 2008 presidential hopeful.
"The Democrats were in the majority in the U.S. Senate when we voted for the Iraq war and passed the U.S. Patriot Act," he said. "It's not enough to be in the majority, you have to stand for something."
Feingold said wherever he goes, conservatives, liberals and moderates all ask him the same question. "When are you guys going to start standing up?"
When it comes to Iraq, Feingold said there's some truth to the perception that Democrats "won't stand up when the administration starts its saber rattling."
Feingold, who has called for removing U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year, said many Democrats started to back him up but eventually "went back into their fox hole."
"Why are so many Democrats so timid about saying what everyone in American knows — it's time to get the troops out of Iraq," he said.
Another potential presidential hopeful, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, put his own spin on the "stand up" theme, telling the crowd that his biggest problem with the Bush administration is that "this president has never asked us to come together as Americans to stand up."
He said Bush has missed numerous opportunities to ask Americans to put aside their differences and work together, including the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq.
"After our troops were in harm's way, if the president had said, 'Maybe we ought to have an energy policy that's a little different,' I would've done my part, you would've done your part. Americans would have done their part. But the president missed his opportunity," Warner said.
He cautioned against removing troops from Iraq too quickly, saying "going out without a plan is just as bad as going in without a plan." The only way Iraq's new government will succeed is if Americans bring Iraq's neighbors to the table to help bring stability to the region, he said.
The crowd reacted most enthusiastically to Warner's criticism of the Bush administration's energy policy. He noted that the United States spends less than $2 billion a year on research into renewable energy, compared to $7 billion a month in Iraq and that Bush has failed to connect the dots between energy policy and national security, and between renewable energy and creating jobs.
"That would require an administration that believes in science," he said.