Duck­worth, though undis­tin­guished as a sen­a­tor, could grow into VP job

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - NEIL STEIN­BERG nstein­berg@sun­ | @NeilStein­berg

Aw, gee ...

My prob­lem is, I wait too long. Waste time think­ing. Mulling ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Mean­while, the just-say-stuff crowd thun­ders past.

When whis­pers started that U.S. Sen. Tammy Duck­worth is be­ing con­sid­ered as Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den’s run­ning mate, I tried to shake it off as her own camp float­ing her name. Politi­cians do that.

When it be­came clear she is ac­tu­ally on the short list, my re­ac­tion was to drag my hand over my face, groan and say, “Aw, gee ...”

Be­cause Duck­worth — while un­ques­tion­ably a war hero who lost both legs in 2004 when her he­li­copter was shot down in Iraq — was also, again with­out ques­tion, a lack­lus­ter Illi­nois Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion head who had trou­ble ac­com­plish­ing any­thing. Then a meh Illi­nois con­gress­woman. And fi­nally, since 2017, a so-so sen­a­tor.

The fault might not be hers. Maybe there’s some­thing wrong with the seat she’s in. Maybe it’s cursed: Four of her five pre­de­ces­sors were Mark Kirk, Roland Bur­ris, Peter Fitzger­ald and Carol Mose­ley Braun, a rogue’s gallery of medi­ocrity if ever there were (the fifth, and the ex­cep­tion to the rule, Barack Obama, didn’t have his butt in a Se­nate chair long enough to leave an im­pres­sion).

I was sharp­en­ing my pen­cils and ar­rang­ing them in a nice straight row, maybe a lit­tle re­luc­tant, be­cause Duck­worth seems a gen­uinely nice per­son, and you hate to say some­thing un­kind about a gen­uinely nice per­son. Then, sud­denly, a dis­gust­ing sound, like a mana­tee vom­it­ing: Fox’s Tucker Carl­son spew­ing forth sev­eral ven­omous di­a­tribes against Duck­worth. The stench wafted across Twit­ter. I felt duty-bound to take a look.

Oh. My. God. Peo­ple watch this stuff ? No won­der those Trump­skis have their brains drib­bling out their ears. Watch­ing Carl­son is like snort­ing bat­tery acid. Duck­worth’s in­ad­e­quacy can’t sim­ply be de­scribed. Oh, no, her av­er­a­ge­ness has to be ac­com­pa­nied by a geyser of undi­luted scorn — “cow­ard” ... “mo­ron” ... “fraud” ... “cal­lous hack.”

I sup­pose if you spend your day as Carl­son does, with your lips pressed firmly against the am­ple but­tocks of a traitor sell­ing our sol­diers’ lives to Rus­sia, it must be re­fresh­ing to oc­ca­sion­ally pull your face away, breathe and praise Ge­orge Washington. That must be restora­tive.

Why drag Duck­worth’s ser­vice into this? You can be both a war hero and po­lit­i­cally in­ept: John Kerry proved that. I re­mem­ber him snap­ping that salute at the 2004 Demo­cratic con­ven­tion — “I’m re­port­ing for duty!” — and slump­ing in my chair, think­ing, “We’re so screwed.”

Yes, char­ac­ter is fate — that, sup­pos­edly, is why we like he­roes such as Duck­worth. Don­ald Trump is cer­tainly a cau­tion­ary tale; elect a clown, ex­pect a cir­cus.

But an­other ob­vi­ous po­lit­i­cal les­son this year is that fate is also fate. Some­times those late bloomers sur­prise you. As they say in the fi­nan­cial mar­kets, past per­for­mance is no guar­an­tee of fu­ture re­sults. Look at Gov. J.B. Pritzker. He was cer­tainly as dull as Duck­worth. He had never held elec­tive of­fice. And while he did a good job as­sem­bling the Illi­nois Holo­caust Mu­seum — as­sum­ing you don’t mind see­ing the hor­ror of the 20th cen­tury trans­formed into a les­son to teach fifth-graders about bul­ly­ing — there was no in­di­ca­tion that he had any qual­i­fi­ca­tions for gov­er­nor other than pos­sess­ing a big lake of cash to float his cam­paign into har­bor.

Then, boom, Pritzker sends Bruce Rauner pack­ing and sud­denly is tak­ing on the pres­i­dent. The COVID cri­sis hits, and Pritzker is Leonidas at the pass, heroic, mak­ing hard de­ci­sions. Sure, down­staters who’d rather kill Grandma than miss Fri­day night at the Beer Bar­rel hate him. But that’s an­other feather in his cap.

So, heck, if Tammy Duck­worth gets un­der the skin of a loath­some Trump fan­boy such as Carl­son, maybe she has more go­ing on than I give her credit for. Maybe she’ll help Joe Bi­den skate into of­fice be­cause she’ll keep Fox Na­tion hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing by sug­gest­ing that maybe we should change the por­trait on the dol­lar bill to An­gela Davis. Car­ing about that kind of stuff is their “Look-a-squir­rel!” way of never con­sid­er­ing any­thing im­por­tant.

The good news is ... check­ing an ac­tu­ar­ial ta­ble ... a man Joe Bi­den’s age, 77, can ex­pect to live an­other decade. Which puts him through his first term and a pos­si­ble sec­ond. The vice pres­i­dency can go to Duck­worth with­out harm done. Maybe she’ll grow into the job.


U.S. Sen. Tammy Duck­worth talks with Wil­liam Hooks, 24, be­fore a march to com­mem­o­rate June­teenth in down­town Chicago on June 19.

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