Honorable Mention: Sen. Tim Kaine

By Benjamin Wittes
Friday, September 19, 2014, 9:21 AM

I have spent a lot of time over the past several years---as have many Americans---marveling at the horribleness of the United States Congress. And like many people of a romantically historical bent, I have often wondered how political institutions created and once occupied by such intellectual giants as were ours came to be dominated by people of such middling talent and limited intellectual horizons. Partly because my contempt for the general performance of the institution is as strong as it is, I want to take a moment to appreciate the work that Senator Tim Kaine has been doing over the past several weeks and months, which really is a picture of what we, as citizens, ought to demand from our elected representatives.

As readers know, Kaine introduced the other day a bill to authorize the fight against the Islamic State. Jack has already commented upon the bill's merits and perhaps promblematic interactions with the 2001 AUMF. I may well have more to say about the bill's text and implications later on too.

For now, however, I want to highlight briefly the terrific process Sen. Kaine undertook in putting this bill together. He read a lot about both the problems that call out for legislation and the various possible approaches to that legislation. He became conversant in granular details of the issues. He sought input from what seems to be a pretty wide variety of sources. While his staff work has been exemplary, his own personal work has been extremely impressive too. He has acted, in short, exactly the way one would want a legislator thinking about a big problem of international affairs, democratic government, and separation of powers to act. In an age in which congressional approval ratings often barely make the double digits, it's worth noting that some members---agree or disagree with them---are working hard to do their jobs.