From Summer 1986 to Senate 2009

Between my first and second year of policy school at Duke University, I spent a sumer at the Advocacy Institute in Washington, D.C.  It was the best summer job ever, even though it paid nothing. Co-Director Mike Pertschuk would come bounding into the office, look me in the eye, exhilirated after some meeting, and tell me about every detail, never minding that I was a lowly intern. At big time parties, the other co-director, David Cohen, would also give me his full focus, telling me how I’d been at the heart of one of the best public interest struggles in the history of public interest struggles.  The Advocacy Institute was a small little group that trained advocates who would fight big battles, like those against the tobacco industry, long before any of those fights had been won.

A few weeks after I arrived, so did another intern.  A young fellow, the son of someone I had carted around the campus at Duke University, board of visitors member Doug Bennett, whose claim to fame at the time was being president of National Public Radio.  Doug Bennett was impressive.  But if he were in a line-up with his son, he’d never stand a chance.  This kid was something else.

The son, Mike Bennett, was young and impressive and clearly the smartest person in the room.  He was also extremely earnest.  He was nice, like you’ve never seen nice.  He was smart, erudite, and all in the most unassuming way.  This was the boy next door with a brain out of this world.  (And I’m no slouch.)  He and I were assigned a task to write up a project.  I thought it merited two pages; he gleaned from it ten.  And there was no fluff. By the end of the summer we all learned he’d won a Coro fellowship, and we knew he was heading out to do some great work.

Indeed.  He’s bounded from one career field to another, Yale law to business to being appointed to superintending the Denver public schools, where he as made astonishing improvements. And now he’s been appointed to fill Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar’s Senate seat, which will make Bennet the youngest Senator of the crop.  (Obama has picked Salazar to be his Interior Secretary.) Colorado’s governor Bill Ritter claimed he wanted someone who was outside the usual circles to finish out Salazar’s term, someone who could meet the new challenges of the era. And despite a field of seasoned politicos ready for the job, he picked Michael Bennet.  This makes me think that Ritter’s a genius. But because Bennet’s relatively young, not a Colorado native, never held elective office, and those “in the know” clearly don’t know the guy, some underestimate him.

I don’t.

Watch this guy.  Really.

Read more: New York Times piece, Washington Post piece, CO Gov’s website, Coro fellowship program site.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

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