News Article

Ben Cardin is boring — and Congress needs more like him
April 24, 2024


By: Peter Jensen

When young people ask me about a possible career in print journalism, I generally like to dazzle them with the profession’s four Ls — low pay, long hours, lots of stress and, my personal favorite, hate mail. Wait, their inevitable reply will be, hate mail doesn’t start with an “L,” to which I shout: “Stick it up your posterior, you too-smart-for-your-own-good liberal pinhead who wouldn’t know the proper use of a semi-colon if it bit you in the aforementioned body part.”

This gives them a feel for just how beloved they will become with the readership (as well as to my trademark awkward syntax). Incidentally, I don’t recommend this technique with easily terrorized grade-schoolers — or English majors — but other college students, those foolish enough to set their sites on a career in newspapers, seem to handle it just fine.

Still, there is at least one consolation to a life misspent and that is that you do meet some interesting people. Now, some of these interesting people are jerks and some, an admittedly smaller subset, are people you wouldn’t mind spending time around. I won’t name names, but the good and the not-so-good aren’t confined to one political party or the other. Jerks can be Democrats or Republicans, young or old, male or female, and same with the good folks. Frankly, it’s often surprising who turns out to be a nice person behind the scenes. Same with the not-so-nice.

All this comes to mind as Maryland approaches a primary election on May 14 without a familiar name on the ballot. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin is not running for reelection. Apparently, holding elected office for 58 years straight (he started in the Maryland House of Delegates at the tender age of 22 while he was still in law school) is considered enough. Choosing his successor has become national news. Not just because of the record sums being spent in the Democratic primary featuring U.S. Rep. David Trone and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks but with the late entry of former Gov. Larry Hogan and the possibility the Maryland Republican, if elected (and early polls suggest that’s quite possible) could tip the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Easily lost in this excitement is that it also marks the official beginning of Cardin’s departure.

Have you ever been dazzled by a larger-than-life personality who walks into the room and suddenly commands it? A John F. Kennedy? A Bill Clinton (before he started seeming a little creepy)? Well, Cardin is nothing like any of those guys. He’s the opposite. He’s the good-natured policy wonk who knows more about the arcane structures and interests of the federal government than many a veteran Capitol Hill staffer. Whether in the State House or the U.S. Capitol, he’s less likely to be posting on social media, than digging into the nitty gritty of regulations. And he does so with humility. On the first day of the Maryland General Assembly session, he stopped by my desk in the basement of the State House to say hi. No security. No aides. No agenda. Who does that? No actual state lawmakers I can tell you. Cardin is ego-free.

Let me assure you this lack of egocentricity in the political class is not just rare, it’s practically non-existent. I first met him when he was Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates in the early 1980s and I was a lowly reporter for an Eastern Shore daily. I might as well have been from The New York Times. He was happy to talk. And he was always deeply knowledgeable, whether it involved his native Baltimore or some arcane matter of property tax assessments or wildlife management. Think of him as the polar opposite of U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene who is all hat and no cattle. Cardin is not just about the cattle, he can offer tips on hoof-trimming. Just don’t expect him to produce a TikTok about it. It’s easy to write nice things about Cardin now. He’ll be out of a job next January so it doesn’t feel like I’m cozying up to some newsmaker. But I would dare you to find anyone else who works in public policy in Maryland (or in the halls of Congress) who wouldn’t say something similar about “My friend Ben” as his campaign slogan once described him. We need more Cardins and fewer Greenes, not just for the sake of bonhomie but to get actual work done.