|In terms of politics (ie. ability to get reelected in 2010, ability to lift the statewide ticket in 2010, etc.), Bennet makes no sense for reasons that are undeniable: He's A) never run for any office in his life B) never run for - or even held by appointment - a statewide office in Colorado and C) lived in the state of Colorado for barely a decade.
Had any one of these factors not been true - had he, say, lived in Colorado for barely a decade but held office, or say, lived in Colorado all his life building up strong connections in the community - there might be some shred of an argument that he is a good political choice in comparison to other candidates like Ed Perlmutter, Andrew Romanoff, Joan Fitz-Gerald, Diana DeGette or John Hickenlooper. But they are all true. I mean, Bennet is even from Denver - so you can't even make the argument that he's some sort of smart geographic choice designed to appeal to the rest of the state, again - especially when compared to the other Denver-ites (Romanoff, DeGette, Hickenlooper, etc.) who could have been named.
Policy-wise, Bennet has some education experience as head of Denver Public Schools, but his record there is, ahem, mixed, and more importantly, it is incredibly thin when put up against people like Romanoff (the Speaker of the House), Perlmutter (a congressman and former Senate president) and even Hickenlooper (Denver's mayor). Additionally, the policy area he does have significant experience with - education - is a relativcely minor issue at the federal level (for instance, federal funding comprises only about 9 percent of public education - despite the fanfare about No Child Left Behind, states and localities still make the big decisions on public education). It's not that education at the federal level is totally unimportant, it's just comparatively minor. In terms of the really huge issues the Senate will deal with - Iraq, health care, trade, economic stimulus, labor law reform - Bennet is a complete and total blank slate. We know almost nothing about him.
So as I said to start, the only thing that rationally explains his appointment is the emboldened power of political aristocracy (and, by extension, money) that is sweeping the country. By aristocracy, I mean all of the factors of aristocracy implied in its dictionary definition's focus on priviledge. That means not just familial lineage - but also money, inside connections and academic/economic advantage.
Bennet is "heading back to the Beltway" where he grew up "with the Democratic elite," as the headline in the Rocky Mountain News tells us:
MSNBC gives us more on this well-groomed scion of political and academic aristocracy:
Bennet was born in New Delhi, India in 1964. The circumstance of the exotic locale was that his father, Douglas Bennet, was serving as an aide to Chester Bowles, then the U.S. ambassador to India and previously foreign policy aide to President Kennedy.
Bennet grew up in Washington, DC and attended the exclusive all-boys St. Alban's school. He went on to graduate from Wesleyan University, and in between undergraduate school and law school he served as a body man to Ohio governor Dick Celeste. After graduating from Yale Law in 1993, he served in the Clinton administration as counsel to Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, a position that included writing speeches for Attorney General Janet Reno. (emphasis added)
Like a seasoned operative in this Golden Age of Aristocracy, Bennet promptly parlayed all of that into a big-money job for right-wing billionaire Philip Anschutz:
He worked for six years prior to his tenure at the City of Denver as Managing Director for the Anschutz Investment Company in Denver, where he had direct responsibility for the investment of over $500 million. He led the reorganizations of four distressed companies including Forcenergy (which later merged with Denver-based Forest Oil), Regal Cinemas, United Artists and Edwards Theaters, which together required the restructuring of over $3 billion in debt. Bennet also managed, on behalf of Anschutz, the consolidation of the three theater chains into Regal Entertainment Group, the largest motion picture exhibitor in the world.
Considering his lack of legislative record, lack of experience in any elected or statewide office, and considerable ties to the biggest of big money, it's logical to be concerned about how a Senator Bennet will vote on issues. Off the top of my head, I'm wondering, for instance, whether someone with this kind of resume is going to be in favor of tougher financial industry regulations?*
But I think there should be an even deeper concern about what Bennet's appointment says about the political age we're living in.
Colorado has no dearth of very, very qualified people to be U.S. Senator (especially considering that being a U.S. Senator is one of the easiest jobs in the United States - your major responsibility is to vote yes or no and then be told how awesome you are by the 50 taxpayer-funded sycophants who comprise your personal staff - a lot easier than the average factory job). More specifically, we have a lot of people who have worked very hard passing good public policy and building the grassroots of the Democratic Party for years here (many who are named on the list of aforementioned potential candidates, and which I publicly supported for appointment when hosting the big drive-time radio show here last week). Looking at this bench, and then selecting a person with almost none of those qualities confirms that what gets rewarded in politics today is not legislative accomplishments nor even political ones - what counts is money, inside connections, Ivy League pedigree and a Beltway-padded resume.
Clearly, the same (if not more) can be said of the imminent nomination of Caroline Kennedy to the U.S. Senate in New York - a state which, by virtue of its sheer size, has even more super-qualified candidates, and yet a state which will likely see its senate seat given away to the daughter of a famous politician (by no less than the heir to a local political dynasty!) based almost solely on her last name. And here's the real kicker - whether in Colorado or New York - the subversion of meritocracy and manufacturing of aristocracy counts more today than it has at any time in contemporary history.
Yes, politics is always a battle between meritocratic idealism (ie. good ideas, grassroots work, etc.) and aristocracy (ie. money, insiderism, aristocracy, privilege, etc.). Yes political aristocracy has always existed, even in meritocratic eras. And yes, there are desirable merits to various facets of aristocracy (for example, we should want well-educated people in government). But there have only been a few infamous historical moments where aristocracy has totally, completely and publicly supplanted the desirable non-aristocratic factors of meritocracy to the point where no one's even trying to hide it anymore. One of those infamous moments was the Gilded Age, when billionaires publicly tried to buy U.S. Senate seats. Sadly, the other infamous moment is right now.
What's confusing, of course, is that we just experienced a presidential election that saw the first African American elected to the White House - an election that seemed to reaffirm the meritocratic myth that "anyone can be president" as long as they are qualified. Somehow, we are being simultaneously taught that lesson while also being taught the opposite about U.S. Senate seats.
But, then, Barack Obama's White House appointments over the last few weeks underscore that - his individual election aside - this remains the Golden Age of American Political Aristocracy. In appointing primarily center-right Washington insiders, he makes the Bennet and Kennedy appointments seem mundane - even predictable. When even the first African American president in American history says insider connections, Establishment seals of approval and proximity to money/power - ie. the credentials of Political Aristocracy - should dictate upward mobility, then run-of-the-mill governors from Colorado to New York are probably going to signal the very same thing.
The problem, of course, is the psychological effect on the rest of the country. All of these moves say to America that there is a real bipartisan Ruling Class in this country, and that that Ruling Class is more adept than ever in tightening its grip over the rest of the nation. That's nothing new - most Americans have long known the political system is rigged. But what is new is that the Ruling Class's re-confirmation of its power and control is happening so brazenly and so soon after an election that thematically promised something different.
In the short term, that may only depress the activist class that had momentarily reengaged in politics based on its (all together now!) hope in those promises of change. Prioritizing aristocracy over meritocracy says to everyone from state legislators to campaign volunteers that the way to get ahead in politics is not to spend lots of time, for instance, building your local party or building a grassroots organization, but instead to simply be lucky enough to have been pulled out of the most privileged crotch as a newborn.
But there could also be a long-term effect - especially if the dominance of aristocracy in our government is expressed by either legislative inaction, or legislation designed to protect the aristocracy (the latter which would be unsurprising from aristocratic policymakers). The depressing reality of politics typically perpetuates the constant low-grade disillusionment we've all gotten used to. But when overt in-your-face reminders of that depressing reality (like the Obama Cabinet picks or the Bennet and Kennedy appointments) are dropped into the mass public's frothing stew of economic angst and ginned up "hope," once-surmountable disillusionment can metastasize into demoralization and then into backlash - and specifically, the government-is-evil kind that Ronald Reagan once rode to victory soon after a Democratic landslide.
I'm not, of course, predicting that for 2010 or 2012 - at least not yet. There's the distinct possibility that in spite of the Golden Age of Aristocracy, the government will be forced to take some basic actions to fix major problems afflicting the non-aristocracy. But if you think there's no mass psychological effect of professional politicians - whether Ritter, Paterson, Obama or anyone else - essentially celebrating insiderism, money and aristocracy, there are whole American history books which suggest otherwise.
* I just want to be clear - none of this means that Bennet will end up being a poor political or policy choice. He may end up being a great candidate for reelection and a great senator on policy. My point is simply that knowing what we know right now, on both political and policy grounds, he doesn't even come close to the qualifications of the other potential candidates - that, in short, his appointment is fundamentally about aristocracy.