He’s the consummate insider. He knows all the right people. He says all the right things. Yet he struggles to be taken seriously.
No, not Joe Biden.
Michael Bennet. Senator from Colorado, and the 18th Democratic Candidate to speak in Manny’s Cafe on the corner of 16th and Valencia.
Based on almost nothing, I had decided some time ago that Bennet was Biden without the baggage. A senator from a western state who sounds like a stooge for the health insurance racket, Bennet’s poll numbers foretell a short and uninspiring campaign.
Big surprise. Michael Bennet can perform! He’s no Trump, but he will not bore you to tears. He speaks an English that is simple, fluent and mostly comprehensible. He also flashes a self-deprecating sense of humor, which he knows how to use. And seems comfortable putting himself out as Leader of the Democratic Party, President etc. etc.
I had expected Manny’s to be empty. The fog had burned off. Who would want to sit around listening to another blow-dried politician who apparently wants to restore a modicum of boredom to American politics?
Apparently, enough people to pack the event space. Standing-room only.
The crowd, though large, was decidedly paler and more grizzled than either the Old Mission or the New Mission. I wondered whether Bennett may have bused them in from Colorado, but at least a couple claimed to be Missionaries. Others let off that Noe Valley vibe, or looked like they had wandered down from Acid Rock, or the Upper Haight. Those of a younger persuasion and a darker hue hung out on the periphery, against the wall. One guy, in a rainbow suit and megaphone, posted himself outside on the sidewalk.
And why shouldn’t Bennet feel comfortable on the political stage?
He’s got the pedigree.
Although he speaks more of his Holocaust surviving mother, it’s really the male lineage that put Bennet on the national (world?) stage. Not just Yale Law School. Grandpa was a star in the New Deal firmament, and Douglas, Michael’s dad, followed in grandpa’s Democratic footsteps. After serving as a staffer in the Senate (for Hubert Humphrey, among others), Douglas took over U.S. Agency for International Development for Jimmy Carter and was later named by President Bill Clinton to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs. He also did a tour of duty as CEO for National Public Radio.
With the possible exception of Biden, Bennet is the Beltway’s favorite son. (The Amazon/Washington Post shows affection for its homeboy with headlines such as “Michael Bennet might be the Democrats’ best chance to beat Trump” and “Michael Bennet is sick of watching Democrats Lose”).
Bennet is true to his roots. When asked why he’s the best candidate to be the next president, he said because he could win. He’s won two senatorial campaigns in a purple state Colorado. At one point, he noted elections, especially in the purple states, are the path to power for the Democratic Party.
In other words, Bennet wants you to know that he is “electable.” Electability-wise, he’s got what it takes: white skin, a penis, a lot of money, and a boring, though bi-partisan, message. With Bennet leading the Blues, we can safely assume purple people won’t vote for Trump.
Promoting his insider bonafides, he boasts, like Biden, of working “across the aisle.” Bennet was one of the “Gang of 8,” Reds and Blues, who in 2013 thrashed out a compromise immigration bill. Which went nowhere.
Bennet still supports the 2013 bill which he thinks is the solution to our immigration woes.
However formidable his skills for “working across the aisle,” Bennet spent more time lambasting Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (aka “Moscow Mitch”) than Trump.
According to Bennet, McConnell doesn’t want to do anything.
When asked specifically how he would work with a Republican Senate, he acknowledged it would be “tough.”
Like other candidates, he seems to realize it’s going to take more than the Democratic Party to plow through McConnell, Tea Party, Freedom Caucus and “moderate” Republicans. He made a vague call for grassroots organizing to build a coalition to push Congress on issues like gun control and climate change.
But you could tell this sort of grassroots organizing outside the Beltway is not really his thing.
For example, when asked if he would support efforts by tech workers to organize, he said he would support doubling unionization (generally) during his Presidency (4 years? 8 years?). As for breaking up Big Tech, or imposing regulation, he said he would pursue another insider gambit: a Justice Department investigation.
When asked about how he would bring America together, Bennet went full Dukakis. He wrapped himself in the mantle of “pragmatism” to distinguish himself from the “ideologues” (his progressive opponents), who promise “pie-in-the-sky” but can’t deliver.
Unfortunately, even to get his incrementalist approach implemented, he acknowledged, will take considerable political organizing beyond the Beltway.
Michael Bennet may have been who Elizabeth Warren had in mind when she said she couldn’t understand why people would run for President if they didn’t have any big ideas. Bennet says he does have ideas.
For example, through universal pre-kindergarten, and an expanded child tax credit, he plans to cut child poverty in half. Nobody loves the children more than Michael.
Bennet often recalled his time as superintendent of the Denver schools, citing his generally positive record with students and teachers.
He did not mention, nor was he asked about, the financial debacle he left the school system with when he was first appointed Senator in 2009.
And it was due to his financial background that he had been chosen superintendent in the first place. After he left DC for the mountains, instead of hiking, Bennet took up complex financial dealings in the employ of the Anschutz Investment Company, a private concern owned by super Republican anti-gay donor, billionaire Philip Anschutz. It was one of those complex financial deals that blew up in the face of the Denver Public School System.
Anschutz did not support Bennet in his Senate races, but his companies did.
Before he left the stage at Manny’s, Bennet ripped once more into “Medicare for All.” He went after the plan for raising taxes on individuals but left out the corresponding premium savings. Bennet, like Biden, supports a public option.
No one asked why Obama, Biden and Senate Democrats, including Bennet, withdrew support for the widely popular public option in 2010.
Despite his current bottom-feeding in the polls, the crowd lined up to shake Bennet’s hand and wish him well. I don’t know if he got much, if any, money for his time, but he should feel pretty good about the reception. He says he’s got the resources to stick around for a while.
Waiting for the Biden bubble to burst.