Tonight could be a rough night for the Democrats in the Senate, although it’s too soon to tell. But those in more Democratic states will win handily and their ranks include some of the smarter, more public-minded members of the caucus. One of them is a personal favorite of mine, the nearly anonymous Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
I say “nearly anonymous” because he rarely appears on national television and seems almost allergic to the spotlight, which makes him unusual—maybe even unique—in the Senate. All Reed does is serve the people of Rhode Island and take up important issues that most other politicians ignore. One of his passions, for example, is public housing. He's also been an advocate for extending unemployment insurance, to deal with persistent joblessness in the wake of the recession. (The New Republic's Danny Vinik has written about these efforts.)
In 2008, when President Obama was casting about for a running mate, I touted Reed as a contender—in part because of his biography. The son of working-class parents, he attended and graduated from West Point, became an Army Ranger, and, upon leaving the military, got a law degree from Harvard. He’s also squeaky clean on ethics, which, coming from corruption-prone Rhode Island, is no small thing.
Reed’s experience in the military has made him an influential figure on the Armed Services committee. He operates mostly behind the scenes—and, perhaps because he keeps a low profile, has almost universal respect from the military brass and, yes, Senate Republicans. His judgment is sound: Like Obama, he was an early skeptic of the Iraq War.
Reed didn't make it onto the 2008 presidential ticket. Rhode Island was useless geographically, Reed is terrible on television, and it turned out that Biden guy made a pretty good case for himself. Maybe that's just a well. In a year when Congress is losing some of the Democratic Party’s best and brightest—including the Armed Services Chairman, Carl Levin of Michigan—it’s good to know that Reed will be around for six more years.