Ben Cardin v. Dan Bongino: What difference does it make?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Hi. Yesterday I posted an article (Ben Cardin v. Dan Bongino: “Next Contestant”) which generated surprisingly strong traffic. My point was that, while Ben Cardin (Democrat), the one-term incumbent U.S. Senator running for reelection in Maryland, was more or less competent, he had failed to make any significant difference toward resolving the major issues of our time. I argued that he was ordinary in times which are anything but. That I hold him, and every Representative, Senator and the President, responsible for the failure of government to resolve our most pressing problems while they are in office. That it’s time to give the “next contestant,” who happens to be Republican challenger Dan Bongino, a political newcomer, a fresh mandate. Particularly when our country is in trouble, there’s got to be more to being in Congress than just showing up.

I know it’s hard to believe, but apparently not everyone appreciated the laser accurate insight I had to offer. (It happens even to the best of us.) Usually, I respond to comments with a comment, something clever and occasionally on point, but I thought this one was worth its own post. To quote the comment:

Fine but a circular argument. No one person can change our governmental process. Will Mr. Bongino stand up and scream for the betterment of Maryland citizens or are we just “passing the torch” to a new elected figurehead who will be powerless?

“Thank you,” whoever you are. It’s a good question which deserves a thoughtful answer.

Okay, first of all, I don’t know for sure that Mr. Bongino will be a better Senator than Mr. Cardin, that he will be able to make a difference when his predecessor didn’t. I’m making a hopeful, but nonetheless logical choice. I mean that literally. What I’m arguing is logical in the technical, academic sense and compelling for that reason.

Think about it. As far as I can tell, both Mr. Cardin and Mr. Bongino are reasonably intelligent, functionally competent people with no discernable character flaws. As for their party affiliations and specific program differences, I don’t care. Given the severity of the major problems we’re facing, I’m not sweating the small stuff. Small stuff would be important, if we didn’t have bigger problems to worry about. (We need the government equivalent of triage. Cosmetic surgery can wait until later, until after we’ve stopped the bleeding.) So I have two candidates for U.S. Senator that I’m going to stipulate are more or less comparable – except for one major difference.

Mr. Cardin has been in Congress since 1987, first as a Congressman and then, for the last five years, four months, as Senator. Mr. Cardin has been in Congress for more than 24 years. Mr. Bongino has never held elective office, let alone served in Congress. Under the circumstances, this history in Congress is the only factor I’m allowing myself to consider, the only material difference I see. The question is, how will I allow this substantial difference in experience to influence my vote? Is it a positive or a negative?

I think it’s a negative. Given a choice between voting for the career elected official who has been in office for more than 24 years during which our government has become increasingly dysfunctional and our most threatening problems have become even more severe, yeah, I’m inclined to give the new guy (man or woman) a chance. I hold Ben Cardin, and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in The White House, responsible. If not him, and his colleagues, who? Someone has got to be responsible, and who else but the elected officials who have been in office and who have not been doing their jobs well enough.

I only have three federal government votes that I can cast: One Congressman, one Senator running this time, and for the President of course. I’m voting against all three incumbents because our government has not been dealing effectively with the issues that we elected our representatives and the President to resolve. Twenty-four plus years in office? How much time does Ben Cardin need to make a difference? Enough already. I’m voting for Mr. Bongino.

One other thing… Incredibly, Governor Rick Perry and I agree on something. In a rare moment of lucidity when Governor Perry was running for the Republican nomination, he made the observation that he thought being a Representative or Senator should be a part-time job, like the way state representatives have other jobs and businesses to which they return when their respective houses are not in session. He’s right. I want a “People’s Congress,” a congress of our piers. I want our representatives to be real people with limited time to focus on and resolve only the most pressing issues of our time. I don’t want our representatives to become millionaires as career politicians. I want them to be one of us, short-term outsiders who are forever reinvigorating our government.

Ben Cardin is probably a nice guy and appears to be a reasonably competent person. The thing is, that’s not enough. After twenty-four plus years in office, he has had more than his chance to make “the difference” that is the heartfelt and intellectual reason we elect anyone to stand up for us in Washington.

I’ll say it again, “Next contestant.”

-Next Contestant

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