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Jack Reed – The Good Soldier

In the rancorous mosh pit that’s Washington politics, why would a liberal, unflashy workhorse like Jack Reed — the only member of Rhode Island’s delegation not in this year’s election crosshairs — want to stick it out in the Senate?




Pretend you’re a professional political consultant, flipping through resumes of potential candidate-clients. There’s the vociferous ideologue, the one who rallies the base by promising never to compromise with the other side. There’s the rich businesswoman, who can give her campaign a solid financial head-start and tap wealthy friends for contributions. Then you look at another contender, a quiet, middle-aged son of a school custodian, with no real personal wealth. He went to West Point and then served in active duty and the reserves, the resume reads. He went to Harvard’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Law School, working in private practice back in his home state. He ran for the state legislature and won, going on to serve in the United States House of Representatives. He built a legislative record and waited his turn to try for the Senate, running when his state’s longtime senator, Claiborne Pell, opted to retire.

This is Jack Reed, Rhode Island’s senior senator, lauded by Democrats and veteran Republicans alike as one of the most unsung members of the chamber. He has, they say, the ideal skill set for successful legislating in Washington and effective representation of his constituents back home: working-class roots, an Ivy League education and a military career that gives him a disciplined demeanor and political street cred with Republicans. But the Senate he toiled to join barely exists anymore, and Reed — one of the last of a breed of old-school workhorses of the Senate — is struggling to do serious work in an environment where compromise is viewed as capitulation, and vitriol trumps reason. 

The frustration isn’t always clear in Reed’s permanent poker face; he doesn’t raise his voice and isn’t one of the lawmakers in both parties who fight legislative battles on cable TV and in news conferences.
 
He’s not one of those who compare people in the other party to notorious dictators. He convinced Bush-era Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stay on under President Obama — even though, Gates says, he was very ready to leave the job. 
 
In an environment that has gotten increasingly nasty, Reed doesn’t get personal with his colleagues. But the underlying frustration is evident as Reed presses ahead on such issues that at one time might have been no-brainers: campaign finance disclosure, honoring the nation’s debt obligation, providing help to the long-term unemployed and figuring out the complicated — but potentially wide-reaching — implications of the banks’ alleged manipulation of the Libor, the world’s benchmark interest rate.
 
“I think there’s been a transformation, in the sense that the newer members coming into the Senate — displacing people on both sides, but particularly on the Republican side — felt there was a very important, vigorous debate about the role of government,” Reed says. “The newer, more ideological members come in with this notion that there’s no real role — maybe national defense” for government, he says. “A whole shift has taken place — it’s more ideology than ideas. More rhetoric than solutions. More speeches rather than legislative action. Basically not cooperation, regardless of the merits” of the legislation.



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