I am not just saying this because Tom and I are serving as fellow Fellows are Harvard's Institute of Politics and have been teaching together all fall. I am saying this because I have made an incredibly good friend in Tom and his wife Christy, and he is everything a public servant should be.
At a time when Obama's Senate seat seems to have been for sale by an overly-blown-dry Senate seat salesman, the Governor of Illinois, there could be no greater contrast than former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. Governor Vilsack has integrity through and through. He is impeccable with his word, and is open about his thoughts. He also has an incredibly unusual quality for a politician (if he even is one): he listens. He has listened to my ideas all semester, conversed with me about life and the election, often joined by his savvy and intelligent wife, and he respects other people. I am younger and more female than Tom- - he doesn't notice. I know this sounds funny, but usually middle aged white guys notice things like that.
Tom relates to young people: his classes were filled. Tom taught a study group on "Risk and Responsibility," helping to educate students about the responsibilities of an excellent public servant and citizen.
Tom and I talked a lot about what is needed in the Secretary of Agriculture in the Obama administration. It's not a job about bad fish from China, although that is part of it. It's not just a job about mad cow beef, although that's included. One of the greatest terrorist threats the U.S. faces from overseas or internally is in tainted killer food. I learned from Governor Vilsack that our food intake is not protected to the degree it should be, and that people need to use scrutiny in this regard.
Tom understands the obesity issues that cause the top (and most preventable) diseases.
Tom ran briefly for President, and I saw him in that capacity in New Hampshire before I knew him. He was impressive, but not the celebrity of Senator Clinton (whom he endorsed) nor Senator Obama (whom he later endorsed quickly when the race narrowed and he deemed it appropriate based on his long standing relationship with the Clintons). Tom was one of a handful of fully supportive, active surrogates for both candidates, traveling every weekend to stump for Obama this fall. Still a bit shy, Tom could shine for them in a way his modesty didn't allow him to do for himself.
That's my take on Tom. Plus, how many governors don't even flinch when you call them by their first name the first time you ever meet them?
A blogger just called this a puff piece. I beg to differ. It is insight into a public servant's character. If the democratic party weren't so polarized right now, progressives and centrists could agree that character matters, particularly in light of current extreme ethical breaches in government and finance.
One more note to the people who think I am naive about what part of the political spectrum Secretary-of-Agriculture-appointee Tom Vilsack represents. Let's just remember how the far right influenced and moved President Bush to their causes through intimidation by people way outside the mainstream center on a variety of issues. Some would say it led us to war. Others would say it's why we can't figure out if we're in a recession or a depression. My only caution is that politics goes both ways. There are people in the middle who would rather worry about the Obama Cabinet's trustworthiness and ability to represent the whole country rather than just serve as ideologues.