If ever there were a need for a change, it is in the United States Senate. Our endorsement in the Senate race here in Illinois goes to Tammy Duckworth, who’s a much better bet than the increasingly perplexing incumbent, Mark Kirk.
Illinois needs more forceful representation in Washington; and Hillary Clinton, should she be elected president, needs a Senate that won’t block her at every turn out of sheer spite. Duckworth has the potential to be the effective senator Kirk has never been. And Illinois, by electing Duckworth, has a chance to hand the Senate to a new Democratic majority.
Given what a debased body the Senate has become under Republican control — refusing even to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court — we would welcome a return to a time when the White House and the Senate worked together to get things done. Remember that? The GOP has had its chance and blown it.
Duckworth is a second-term member of the U.S. House, where she can claim a number of small-bore achievements, especially in the area of reducing wasteful military spending. She sponsored a particularly ingenious bill, for example, that required the different branches of the military to settle on common uniform camouflage patterns. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates this simple reform will save taxpayers $4.2 billion over five years.
We are reminded of how Harry Truman made a name for himself as a senator in the 1940s by going after military waste. When we asked Duckworth about that, she acknowledged that “Give ’em Hell, Harry” was an inspiration.
But it is Duckworth’s remarkable life story that gives us reason to believe she might have what it takes to be a real force in the Senate, not just another back-bencher.
She joined the Army National Reserve Officers’ Training Corps as a graduate student at George Washington University in 1990 out of a simple desire to serve her country. She chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat jobs open to women.
She lost her legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq. Her life was changed forever, but she was not defeated. As a patient in a military hospital, she met a visiting senator, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and before long she took to pestering him about all the problems her fellow wounded soldiers were having — hassles with government paperwork and the like.
Durbin invited her to attend President George W. Bush’s 2005 State of the Union Address. She wore her dress uniform — with an IV line concealed underneath. She went on to become director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and, later, assistant secretary in the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.
Like Duckworth, Mark Kirk is an honored military veteran; and, like Duckworth, he has fought his way back from a devastating physical setback, in his case a severe stroke in 2012. We respect the man for his military service, of course, and we admire the tenacious way he has worked his way back to better health.
But Mark Kirk has long been a mystery to us. This is nothing new. We said exactly that six years ago when we declined to endorse Kirk in his first Senate run. We were unsure then — and less sure now — whether he’s a man of convictions or a weather vane. And we wondered then — and wonder more now — how he can be so careless in his words and claims.
Six years ago, we questioned why Kirk felt the need to exaggerate his resume, claiming honors and experiences that were not his. Now we question why he is so careless in another way. He just says the darndest things.
You might recall a few of his greatest hits:
Kirk once referred to President Barack Obama as the “drug dealer in chief.” And he said Obama just wants to “get nukes to Iran.” He referred to another senator as “a bro with no ho.” And he said “we drive faster” through African-American neighborhoods. Who’s “we”?
The senator also has an unfortunate way — again, this is nothing new — of proposing neat and tidy solutions to enormously difficult international challenges. What, for example, should be done about Syrian refugees? Kirk, seemingly out of the blue during a meeting with the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, proposed creating one big refugee center in Jordan.
Never mind that Jordan has signaled no enthusiasm for such a scheme. And never mind that somebody — likely the United States — would have to provide military protection, possibly including boots on the ground, for years to come.
But that’s Sen. Kirk for you.
Duckworth, to our thinking, remains a political work in progress. She has cast her vote in Congress along strict party lines. But, in her defense, that’s the norm for a freshman legislator from the minority party. And, as with the way she has tackled the problem of wasteful military spending, we like the way she makes an issue her own.
We endorse Duckworth for the Senate today in the hope that she will become a real leader in Washington, a dynamic senator who delivers for both Illinois and the nation.
This is a woman who asked to fly helicopters in war zones. This is a woman who charged back into life after a double amputation, picking up a Ph.D. in political science along the way.
Mark Kirk has had his chance, and so too has the Senate’s Republican majority. Tammy Duckworth represents a positive change that can’t come soon enough.
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