I sort-of suspect that I was invited at least partially because I blog and they were hoping I'd blog nice things about Senator Durbin. I'm about to do so, so I feel ever so slightly chagrined, since normally I prefer to do the opposite of what people want me to do, just because I'm contrary. (I had a music teacher in high school who knew this and whenever he thought I was slacking off, he'd say, "You'll never learn to play that passage at speed," and even thought I knew what he was doing, I couldn't resist the urge to prove him wrong. It was so aggravating.)
So Saturday morning I was awake at a reasonable hour and actually wearing clothes by 8 a.m., which almost never happens. I trotted over to the Lariat Steakhouse, leaving Mr. McGee still blissfully asleep, for the 8:30 a.m. coffee.
Everyone was extremely nice to me and I met a lot of folks from local politics and government. I was struck by the fact that I was just about the youngest person there, not counting the babes in arms. There were two other young women I know, and one of them had a husband in tow, but otherwise it was mostly middle-aged and older folks. It was also a mostly-labor crowd. I note this because I think the democratic party really needs to start building bridges to younger liberals, and many younger liberals "lean green," and there was a real dearth of both youth and non-labor democratic concerns in that room. (Which isn't to belittle labor; furthermore, I think labor and greenies have a lot of common and complimentary goals, but that's another post for another day.)
The senator socialized for a while, then spoke for about 10 or 15 minutes and then took questions for half an hour. He is surprisingly short. He has a firm handshake. Babies smile at him. (One little charmer, every time the room applauded, would shriek and clap her hands. It was adorable.) A surprising number of people are willing to put on suits at 8:30 on a Saturday morning.
So here's the part where I talk about content rather than appearance:
Durbin impressed me.
He did not talk down to us, which is an increasingly rare trait in politicians. He was extremely forthright, saying things like, "This is the bill I'd ideally like to see passed, but the truth is we don't have the votes for that; I expect a compromise bill that looks something like this." There wasn't a lot of ideological posturing. He was very honest about what he thought could and could not be accomplished. He admitted to not knowing the answer to a question he was asked.
I asked a question about Ag policy, and he gave me a pretty thorough answer. I happen to think it's the wrong answer -- he's big on ethanol, which I think will turn out to be a spectacular debacle, but it's hard to count it against an Illinois or Iowa politician when they're in favor of something that's such an enormous economic boon for the states. And his answer reflected that he was aware of both the human and ecological dimensions of agricultural policy; he even talked about fertilizer runoff and why it's bad for farmers and the environment. (Generally the kind of thing only ag and eco nerds worry about.)
I came away from the morning with a favorable impression of Durbin. I don't agree with all of his politics and policies by any means, but the impression I got is that he is someone who is honest, forthright, intelligent, thoughtful on the issues, and concerned about both his constituents and the wider world.
I called my mom to tell her about it, and she asked, "Which Senator?" and I replied, "The not-sexy one who's not running for president?" "Oh, Durbin!" (Okay, now I feel less like a shill.)