Ben Cardin v. Dan Bongino: Next contestant.

April 27, 2012

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, this piece has nothing to do with politics per se. I’m a registered Independent with a history of voting for candidates of both party affiliations. What this column is about is how I’m deciding for whom I’ll vote in November.

In Maryland, single term incumbent Democrat Senator Ben Cardin is running for reelection against Republican Dan Bongino who has never held elective office. For the sake of discussion, I’m going to stipulate that both are good men in all respects. I’m not going to dispute a single aspect of Senator Cardin’s voting history or argue with his positions on various economic and social issues. Nor am I going to challenge Mr. Bongino with respect to his politics.

Senator Ben Cardin

Dan Bongino

It’s not to say that candidate positions are irrelevant. Of course not. They’re important, but only relatively speaking. We can argue about this or that policy particular until, as they say, the cows come home, or vote for the candidate who sounds or looks better, for the one with whom we feel more comfortable for some reason. That’s all fine and good were it not that the problems our country is facing – economic and otherwise – are so serious that we need to demand something more of our representatives in Congress, something much more than just showing up.

There’s a question that is sometimes raised by candidates and which is particularly appropriate in difficult times. “Are you,” the challenger asks of the electorate, “better off today than you were when the incumbent was elected?” True, it’s an argument usually made by someone running for President or maybe Governor, but I believe we do ourselves a disservice by not asking it of every elected official, Representatives and Senators included.

And so I make the following recommendation for your consideration that I offer in the context of the Maryland race for U.S. Senator. We are decidedly not better off today than we were when Ben Cardin took office. We are worse off. We have made little or no actual progress in many areas of important concern, and “negative progress,” if you’ll excuse the oxymoron, toward resolving other major problems. Is this disappointing lack of progress Mr. Cardin’s doing? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t care. Can I blame him for it? Absolutely. It’s my right as his constituent, as a person who, with other Marylanders, hired him six years ago.

All I know is that Senator Cardin, while doing his job in a manner of speaking, didn’t step up. He didn’t stand on the Capitol steps and scream into the microphones that we cannot continue doing what passes as “business as usual” in Washington. I never heard him say, to paraphrase fictional news anchor Howard Beale, “I’m mad as hell and, on behalf of the people of Maryland, I’m not going to take it anymore.” I never heard him say it, or do anything about it.

Too dramatic? Maybe, but hopefully you’ll get the point. I hold every Congressman/woman and Senator, and the President of course, whatever his or her party affiliation, responsible for the performance of our government while he or she is in office. Mr. Cardin is asking us to reelect him, but offers us no compelling, no profound reason why. He’s been in office five years, four months, but to what end? Given the magnitude and complexity of the problems we need to solve, we’re way past the point when a history of routine, competent behavior is sufficient cause to keep someone in office. Mr. Cardin, thank you for your service, but your state and country needed more.

And so I say, hopefully, with unending optimism, “Next contestant.”

Unless he presents some major character flaw, I’m voting for Mr. Bongino who, if he’s listening, I fully intend to hold to the same standard six years from now.

-Next Contestant

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