Friday, January 30, 2009

Mr. Bennet Goes to Washington

In these days of rampant stupidity on Capitol Hill, herewith a small hope that intelligence, youth and energy may not disappear completely.

With all the attention on replacements for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, another decidedly unusual choice has entered the Senate to take the Colorado seat of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Michael Bennet, 44, who had never run for elective office (pace critics of Caroline Kennedy), was chosen by Gov. Bill Ritter after serving less than four years as Denver's Superintendent of Schools.

He, too, comes from a political family. His grandfather had been an adviser to FDR, and his father ran the Agency for International Development under Jimmy Carter before becoming president of National Public Radio and, later, Wesleyan University.

From this undeniably elitist background, Bennet after Yale Law School worked in the Clinton Justice Department, then followed his wife, an environmental lawyer, to Colorado, got a job with a financier and, without knowing how to read a balance sheet, began buying distressed businesses, restoring them to profitability and earning millions for himself and his boss.

From there, he went to work for the Mayor of Denver, helped balance the budget after an historic deficit and then, with no background in education, became Superintendent of Schools and helped turn them around.

"You can't beat brains," JFK used to say, and these days the political shortage is acute. Couple that with a "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" kind of idealism, and the new Sen. Bennet becomes someone to watch as he learns his way around another unfamiliar environment.

"I was raised," he says, "in a family that believed it has an obligation to make the world better for another generation. It sounds hokey, but it's true."

Hokey will do nicely in this era of Change.

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