With a disgust commensurate with the fact, Michael Bennet, the Colorado Democrat, says that during 40% of his 10 Senate years the government has been run on “continuing resolutions.” Congress passes these in order to spare itself the torture of performing its primary function, which is to set national priorities. Bennet is too serious a person to be content in today’s Senate, and if Democrats are as serious as they say they are about defeating Donald Trump, Bennet should be their nominee.
The painfully revealing first phase of the Democratic presidential sweepstakes culminated with two remarkably efficient debates. This phase clarified the top four candidates’ propensity for self-inflicted wounds. When replayed in Trump’s negative ads, what they have already said might be sufficient to reelect him.
Bennet checks a requisite number of progressive boxes: He is impeccably (as progressives see such things) alarmed about the requisite things — the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, climate change, Mitch McConnell, etc. And he has endorsed — perfunctorily, one hopes — other candidates’ gesture-legislation to “study” reparations for slavery (Sen. Cory Booker) and for same-sex couples who lived in states where same-sex marriages were legal but who could not file joint tax returns before the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (Sen. Elizabeth Warren).
Bennet has, however, refrained from frightening and mystifying voters with plans (Sens. Harris, Warren, Sanders) to eliminate their private health insurance. Or with nostalgia for forced busing that shuffled children among schools on the basis of race (Harris). Or with enthusiasm for the institutional vandalism of packing the Supreme Court. Or with disdain (expressed by advocating decriminalization of illegal entry) for the principle that control of borders is an essential attribute of national sovereignty. And because Bennet, 54, was eight when Joe Biden came to the Senate, Bennet has not had to conduct a Bidenesque Grovel Tour to apologize for deviations, decades ago, from today’s progressive catechism.
If, as Bennet believes, the Democratic nomination competition has become “more fluid,” it is because Harris, Sanders, Warren and Biden have imprudently spoken their minds. And they probably are not done shooting themselves in their already perforated feet.
Unlike them, Bennet has won two Senate races in a swing state that is evenly divided between Democrats, Republicans and independents. He can distinguish between what he calls “the Twitter version of the Democratic Party” and the “actual” version.
Bennet’s father, a descendant of a Mayflower passenger, earned a Harvard Ph.D. (medieval Russian history), and was an aide to a U.S. ambassador to India, and later worked for Democrats Hubert Humphrey, Ed Muskie and Tom Eagleton. Bennet’s mother, who survived the Holocaust by hiding in a Warsaw suburb, reached New York — via Stockholm and Mexico City — where her parents opened an art gallery. The city was the center of the postwar art world, and they did well. Bennet says that in second grade he won both ends of the competition to see who had the oldest and newest American family branches.
He edited the Yale Law Journal, became an associate at the Washington firm Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, then prospered working for a Denver investment firm before entering public service, which included four years as superintendent of Denver’s public schools, in which 67% of the pupils were poor enough to be eligible for free or subsidized lunches.
Bennet believes that Trump is more a symptom than a cause of political dysfunction, and he regrets that “the capitalists have lost control of the Republican Party,” which now is controlled by Trump cultists. China’s perfection — and exporting — of the “surveillance state” makes American democracy more important, and therefore its current degradation especially alarming. American politics has become a dialectic of “preemptive retributions” of “do it to them before they do it to us.” Trump’s politics of “I alone can fix it” has, Bennet says, “stripped the American people of their agency.”
In his new book (“The Land of Flickering Lights: Restoring America in an Age of Broken Politics”), he quotes Thucydides on the civil war in the city of Corcyra: “With public life confused to the critical point, human nature, always ready to act unjustly even in violation of laws, overthrew the laws themselves and gladly showed itself powerless over passion but stronger than justice and hostile to any kind of superiority.” Such hostility is the essence of populism. Fortunately, the Democratic field includes one person familiar with Thucydides’ warning and who is unafraid to assert its contemporary pertinence.
(George Will is a columnist of The Washington Post Writers Group.)