In a column Tuesday, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen singles out one of Colorado Senator Michael Bennet's TV commercials as an example of everything wrong with the current American political climate. Cohen laments that the commercial (viewable below), which shows Bennet contrasting the "real" Washington (Washington County in Colorado) with the "broken" political system in Washington D.C., embodies a campaign strategy that forces the Senator to hide from the very aspects of his biography that make him qualified to serve in the Senate.
WATCH:From Cohen's column:
For a time earlier this year, I thought Sen. Michael Bennet had to be the biggest jerk in Washington. I had been spending some time in Colorado, daily ingesting Bennet's campaign commercials in which he presented himself as an anti-Washington provincial. In one commercial, he stood -- conventionally suited -- before the U.S. Capitol and denounced Washington. The spot then cut to a casually dressed Bennet standing in Washington County, Colo., which has real problems and real people who really know how to solve those real problems if only the other (non-real) Washington would just leave them alone. Click went the remote control. Who is this jerk?
After a while, I repaired to my laptop and summoned up information on this Bennet. He is the very new senator by virtue of being appointed to replace Ken Salazar, drafted by President Obama for the thankless task of interior secretary. (Welcome to the gulf, Ken.)
But as I read on, I was shocked -- and I mean just that -- to discover that Bennet had been the much-admired superintendent of the Denver school system, a highly successful investment banker, chief of staff to the mayor of Denver, an aide to the governor of Ohio, a graduate of Wesleyan University and Yale Law School . . . and was raised, of all places, in Washington where his father, Douglas J. Bennet, had been a longtime public servant and diplomat. The senator was born in New Delhi, where his father served on the staff of the U.S. ambassador, the illustrious Chester Bowles. ("Birthers," take note.)
My jaw dropped. This was not the guy I had been seeing on the screen -- nothing about his education, his experience, his time abroad or that his grandparents survived the Warsaw Ghetto. He was, to my mind, the perfect senatorial candidate -- familiar with domestic and foreign affairs, well-traveled, well-educated and coming from a family whose accomplishments had to amount to a rich legacy. Yet, because Bennet faces a primary, and if he survives that, a general election, none of these things could be mentioned. In the current political environment, it behooves the wise candidate to hide his qualifications. We have come to value ignorance.
There was a time when a U.S. senator was supposed to both know and care about foreign affairs. There was a time when a U.S. senator was supposed to be a person of some sophistication, erudition and a more than modest amount of brain power. Colorado itself in the not-too-distant past was represented by Gary Hart, celebrated for his intellect and ideas, and the equally smart Tim Wirth and Floyd Haskell. It was not considered scandalous to actually know something about how Washington works and to advocate ideas that were rooted in reality.
Bennet is far from the only Colorado candidate running against Washington. In an election year that most experts say will be defined by one of the strongest anti-incumbent sentiments in recent memory, Bennet's Democratic primary opponent, Andrew Romanoff has also struck an anti-Washington tone. Meanwhile, the race for the GOP senate nomination in Colorado between Ken Buck and Jane Norton has largely turned into a competition to see who can successfully pin the other as a Washington insider.