Now that Senator Ben Cardin has announced he will not seek another term, it is time to reflect on how fortunate Maryland has been to have him represent us. Cardin is a public servant in the best meaning of that term. His focus has been on representing Marylanders.
In an excellent editorial, the Washington Post described Cardin as modest, humble and detail-oriented. I would add that he is the type of Senator essential to the Senate successfully doing its work.
Imagine if the Senate were populated with one hundred Ben Cardins? No fist-pumping insurrectionists (Josh Hawley of Missouri), windbags (more than two dozen, with Texan Ted Cruz leading the parade), idiots (Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, to name just one), unfunny comedians (Louisianan John Kennedy), and weird folks (Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona). And let us not forget the showboats (Booker of New Jersey, Durbin of Illinois, Warren of Massachusetts, Manchin of West Virginia, Rubio of Florida, and, of course, Rand Paul of Kentucky).
In contrast to more than three-quarters of the Senate, Cardin rarely seeks the spotlight. When he appears on cable news, it is usually to discuss important legislation he is working on—things like holding Saudi Arabia responsible for the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamel Khashoggi, securing tax-breaks for small businesses, or working on environmental issues. Since joining the Senate in 2017, and for 20 years as a member of the House of Representatives, Cardin has left it to his colleagues to sling the mud or to bathe in the narcissistic self-promotion involved in watching yourself on MSNBC or Fox.
Cardin epitomizes the decorum once prevalent in the Senate. He has rarely lashed out at Republicans, even when they richly deserved it. And he has worked with Republicans whenever possible. Let’s contrast that no-nonsense low-key approach with that of West Virginia’s Joe Manchin. How refreshing.
Imagine if Ben Cardin, rather than Chuck Schumer of New York, were the Democratic Leader? Would the debt ceiling impasse be resolved? Possibly, yes. President Biden would do well to take a page from Cardin—rather than talk about bipartisanship, practice it.
Although he has proven to be an extraordinary senator, I admire Cardin’s decision to announce his retirement now—more than 18 months before election day 2024. The Senator is 79 years old. Rather than attempt to set a record for how long he serves in the Senate or public office, Cardin recognized that the time was right to step aside and make way for a new senator. Thanks to Cardin’s lack of ego and sense of responsibility, the Maryland Democratic party is free to conduct a careful, open, and thorough process to select Cardin’s successor.
Contrast Cardin’s decision with the hot mess of California Senator Diane Feinstein’s reluctant decision to announce she would not seek re-election. Her announcement came only after various Democrats began announcing their candidacies for her seat. What was she thinking? Or, better stated, was she thinking?
Feinstein no longer appears able to execute the job of Senator but refuses to resign. Effectively, California will be without a Senator for the next 18 months (assuming Feinstein lives that long). Her continuing health-related absence from the Senate is undermining Democrats’ efforts to resolve the debt ceiling crisis. Can you imagine Ben Cardin making a similar decision?
In short, Maryland has been fortunate to have Cardin represent us. My hope is that his approach to public service will be the standard against which all candidates to replace him will be judged. Maryland does not need an Elizabeth Warren or a Josh Hawley to represent us. We need a senator with a pristine record of integrity, a commitment to represent all Marylanders, and an understanding that for the Senate to work, senators must collaborate with one another.
Thank you, Ben Cardin, for your exemplary service. When you leave the Senate next year, you will be sorely missed but not forgotten.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.