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Duckworth may even grow into the VP job

A Fox News host’s savaging of Illinois’ junior senator obscures the fact that she’s been kind of a let-down.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks to Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington in February 2018.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., speaks to Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington in February 2018.
AP file

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 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 Tucker 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 Tucker 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 like 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 5th 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 he 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 like Tucker 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.