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Russ Feingold, the author, visits Hudson bookstore

Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold shares a laugh with his audience at Chapter 2 Books in Hudson last Thursday evening. Photos by Randy Hanson1 / 2
About 50 people crowded into the bookstore at 422 Second St. for the appearance by Russ Feingold. The former U.S. senator spoke and answered questions for close to an hour, and then autographed copies of his new book "While America Sleeps."2 / 2

This time, it was a talking session that brought Russ Feingold to Hudson last Thursday evening.

The former U.S. senator, known for holding yearly listening sessions in each of Wisconsin's 72 counties, was at Chapter 2 Books to talk about his new book "While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era."

Feingold spoke for half an hour to a group of about 50 people crowded into the Second Street bookstore. He answered questions for another 15 minutes, and then signed copies of the book for those who had purchased one.

"This obviously has been an interesting week in Wisconsin politics," Feingold said in his opening, eliciting some laughter from the audience.

He was referring to Gov. Scott Walker's victory over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in the recall election two days earlier.

His appearance in Hudson was scheduled long before he knew what would be happening in Wisconsin at this time, he said.

Feingold said he was "personally very disappointed" with the election results, but after visiting with his daughters and grandson, "I'm ready to roll again."

"We have to keep goin'," he said.

Feingold has been teaching law at Marquette University and writing his book since losing his seat in the Senate to Republican Ron Johnson in the November 2010 election.

He said Washington's K Street, home to many lobbying firms, didn't hold any appeal to him and he was happy to return to Wisconsin.

Later in the question-and-answer session, he said he hadn't anticipated being asked so soon to run for office again. Many Democrats wanted him to challenge Walker in the recall election.

The 59-year-old Feingold said that he'd promised family members some time away from public office after serving in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, in in the Wisconsin Senate for 10 years before that.

He didn't rule out a future run for office, but said it would have to be the right position and the right time. And the time isn't now, he said.

"While America Sleeps" deals with what Feingold says is the nation's failure to properly respond to challenges in the post-9/11 world.

"Oversimplification of complicated new problems, as well as the cynical exploitation of the fears generated by 9/11 has undermined our ability to adjust effectively to American's new place in the world," the cover jacket to the book says.

To the Chapter 2 bookstore audience, Feingold said, "What's bothering me is that I think we're missing a historical moment for the United States and the people of this country to realize that we have to be connected in a more serious way to the rest of the world."

He said President George W. Bush delivered one of the best speeches given to Congress by any president three weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but then later turned the country's attention to invading Iraq when there was no threat of terrorism coming from that country.

His chapter on the Iraq War is titled "The Iraq Deception."

"What I tried to do in the book is explain what happened because of our general strategy in Iraq," Feingold said. "Everything we did was defined on the basis of Iraq. And it was crazy, because Bush actually said in his speeches over and over again that there were 60 or 65 countries where al-Qaeda was operating. His list included Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, the Slavic republics, Ireland, England -- but not Iraq."

He said that while the United States was concentrating on holding Iraq, terrorist groups were expanding in other countries.

"What I thought 9/11 showed us is what happens when we're not alert. We learned what it felt like to be taken completely by surprise," he said, recalling how the big news story during the summer of 2001 had been shark attacks in the country's coastal waters.

Now the country is inwardly focused on economic problems, he said.

"We need to walk and chew gum at the same time. We can't say once we get done with these domestic issues, get everything going with the economy, we'll pay attention to the world," Feingold said.

"Instead, what we have now is a government and a public that is divided against itself at almost all levels -- almost at war with itself. We have gridlock. We have partisanship. We have obsession not only with the next election, but with the next poll or the next primary or whatever it is. And, of course, we have the corrupting influence of big money on this political process in a way that I would have never predicted."

He decried the political attacks on President Barack Obama for traveling abroad, saying that it is a new development in American politics. In the past, presidents of both parties have been supportive in their attempts to make peace in the world, he said.

Feingold supported the teaching of foreign languages in American schools and called for more programs to send "citizen diplomats" abroad.

"It compromises us on security and intelligence and business -- you name it," he said of most American's inability to speak a second language.

"How can we compete, how can we protect ourselves, and how can we have a better image around the world if we don't understand what's going on?" he said.

Chapter 2 Books owner Brian Roegge introduced Feingold. Copies of "While America Sleeps" are available at the bookstore, located at 422 Second St. They're priced at $26.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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