By Eric Sondermann
Special to The Gazette
Some days it seems Colorado has a single United States Senator — though fortunately one with two votes when the roll is called.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to our delegates to that august body as Sen. Bennelooper.
The alignment seems apt given their close identity. Both Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper share a Wesleyan education, successful chapters of wealth accumulation and an instinct for the political center.
Close friends, Bennet and Hickenlooper even found themselves on parallel paths trudging through Iowa and New Hampshire during the early stages of the last presidential nominating contest.
Of course, their association dates back to Bennet’s service as Hickenlooper’s first chief of staff during his early mayoral years. The junior staffer is now the senior senator.
A favorite recollection from that period had me wandering late some afternoon into Bennet’s workspace, adjacent to the mayor’s stately office, only to find the two of them deep into a lesson on the workings of eBay. Bennet was the instructor and Hickenlooper the student, as the mayor needed to spend that evening monitoring bids on an old Checker cab he wanted for his official vehicle. (18 years later, I assume the statute of limitations has run on the privacy of that little vignette I happened upon.)
To be fair, the two of them are quite different people. Bennet is serious and studious, comfortable in his own company, and a legislator involved with many of the important debates of our era. Hickenlooper, meanwhile, is an extrovert’s extrovert, everyone’s best friend, and a master of politics as a branding exercise. He now holds a job he previously disdained and the verdict still awaits as to whether it is a fit.
That is all prologue. Though I challenge the reader to find any senatorial pairing over the years, here or elsewhere, where the two were so exceedingly close both personally and politically.
So how should Coloradans regard their current representation by Bennelooper?
If someone just awoke from a very long hibernation, they might perceive that Colorado had not only gone blue, but had turned into a rarified coastal enclave. As Sen. Bennelooper have become virtually indistinguishable from the free-spending, self-avowed progressives most often sent to the Senate by such confirmed bastions of liberal thought.
A trillion-dollar, plus or minus, package of investments in true infrastructure was both overdue and rightly attracted significant bipartisan support. Hooray.
But for Democrats, including Bennelooper, that is now linked to a $3.5 trillion expenditure plan that is somewhere between AOC’s list for Santa and Bernie Sanders dream. For those who like to see numbers in full form, that is $3,500,000,000,000.
On the subject of branding, this package is now conveniently referred to as “human infrastructure.” The focus groups must have loved it.
“Infrastructure” has traditionally referred to society’s hard, physical undergirding — airports, roads, bridges, commuter rail, and so on. If every item of social spending is now “infrastructure,” then another word has lost meaning as our vocabulary continues to dumb down.
Is health care now “wellbeing infrastructure”; education “learning infrastructure”; and old-age entitlements “retirement infrastructure”? Farm subsidies will henceforth be known as “soybean infrastructure.”
And why stop at $3.5 trillion? In a country awash in public spending and with neither party remotely serious about balancing revenue and expenditures, why not $5 trillion? Or a nice, round $10 trillion? This has become an ungrounded game of throwing a dart at some absurdly, obscenely large number.
American fiscal policy is akin to an overweight, runaway truck, careening downhill without brakes, but the driver hoping without evidence that there is a soft, sand-filled escape ramp just around the bend.
Sen. Bennelooper and so many Democratic colleagues are fundamentally misreading the message of the 2020 election and dangerously overplaying their hand. Joe Biden currently sits in the White House for one reason only – namely, that the country had grown exhausted, weary and plain worn out by his predecessor.
Beyond the precincts of Brooklyn and Oakland, few serious observers read that election as some kind of mandate for huge, unchecked spending on an endless list of pet projects. If that had been the electorate’s intent, then Biden’s victory would have been accompanied by tangible Democratic margins in the House and Senate. That is not at all what transpired, as Democrats notably underperformed in those races.
A functional political party (which at this point excludes vast swaths of the GOP) requires some who firmly rides the gas pedal and others who pump the brakes. But Democrats are all accelerator these days as the party increasingly kowtows to its loudest voices.
Instead of castigating the likes of West Virginia’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, smart Democrats would do well to thank them. They are the ones endeavoring to save the Party from dramatic overreach and the political penalty it inevitably extracts.
Which raises the question of why Colorado’s Bennelooper, longtime reputed moderates, are not on board with Manchin and Sinema. As Denver’s Mayor and his young sidekick, Hickenlooper and Bennet preached and practiced fiscal responsibility with municipal finances. What became of those two fellows?
By bucking the party and sticking to their guns, Manchin, Sinema and a precious few others have put themselves at the epicenter of D.C. influence. Their votes are coveted and essential to the passage of most anything.
Conversely, Bennelooper’s two votes are in the Democratic bank and largely taken for granted. Their support was apparently secured on the cheap.
These political twins were elected as moderates in the mold of predecessors like Hart, Wirth, Salazar and Udall who placed western values first and often put independence ahead of calls for partisan team play.
Anyone who knows the unique Bennelooper duo knows that they know better.
Gentlemen, let me recommend that you consider the famous words of President John F. Kennedy. “Sometimes party loyalty demands too much.”
Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. Reach him by email at EWS@EricSondermann.com and follow him on Twitter at @EricSondermann.