I expect to post a longer message regarding the conference that Jack just wrote about. What I want to do now, though, is simply to vent about the patent irresponsibility of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in appointing his friend Michael Cowan to replace John Kerry as senator, apparently for no other reason than his (Gov. Patrick's) desire to have an African-American Democratic senator for at least four monts or so, and regardless of the fact that there is no reason at all to believe that Sen. Cowan, as I presume he'll become tomorrow or very shortly thereafter, has any real knowledge about national political issues that may in fact come up in the next four months. This is "expressive politics" at its absolute worst, and Gov. Patrick should be ashamed of himself. Frankly, it is the kind of self-indulgent gesture by someone with power that gives "affirmative action" (which I support) a bad name with many Americans. He has, in one instant, disserved his state, his party, and the nation (even if, as I presume, Sen. Cowan is an extremely fine and able person whom all of us would be proud to have as a friend or, if governor of Massachusetts, an aide, as he was.) Nothing in my remarks should be read as casting aspersions on Mr. Cowan's personal character (other, frankly, than that he didn't have the personal self-discipline to exercise what Madison might have described as the "civic virtue" to tell the Governor that he is highly flattered but not really qualified for the job).
A couple of years ago, a Harvard student wrote a superb senior thesis under my notional supervision on this particular aspect of the Seventeenth Amendment, which allows states to allow their governors a free hand in making interim appointments to the Senate when a vacancy opens up. He demonstrated that gubernatorial appointees generally have a relatively rough time winning the subsequent election (assuming they run) because of public suspicion that the appointee is nothing more than a friend of the governor rather than someone who has really earned the appointment because of public service. Can you recall Roland Burris, who received the nod from Rod Blagoevich to succeed Barack Obama as senator? This seems to be the best possible illustration, at least since the Burris appointment, of how a governor can abuse the legal authority that is certainly his under a combination of the Seventeenth Amendment and authorizing state legislation. Nicki Haley's apponitment of Tim Scott, the first African-American to represent South Carolina in the United States Senate, though no doubt based on political considerations (nothing wrong with that) raises no such questions inasmuch as he had represented his district in the United States House of Representatives and, presumably, is thought by many South Carolina Republicans to have the attributes of genuine public leadership. I obviously don't share Haley's and Scott's politics, but that's another matter entirely.
One should read my rant against the background that there was an absolutely superbly qualified candidate in the wings, more than happy to accept the role of interim appointee, pledged not to run in the special election, and, most importantly, remrkably up-to-speed with regard to the various issues that will face the Senate in the next four months: Barney Frank. One could understand why former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney would not appoint former Rep. Frank. It is utterly inexplicable why Gov. Patrick did not do so, unless, of course, he believes that Frank is just too left in his politics. I don't share that view, but if that's Patrick's view, he should say so and specify why he has more confidence in Senator-to-be Cowan's insights into the ways we should approach various forthcoming cliffs and sequesters. Massachusetts voters would be interested in such information, particularly given Patrick's closeness to President Obama. (Is it conceivable--I certainly hope not--that Obama lobbied against the Frank appointment because he might make waves should Obama cave, in order to achieve a chimerical "grand bargain" on a number of issues dear to political liberals and their working-class constituents?) Perhaps I would be less upset if Barney Frank weren't so clearly available--ready, willing, and able--and if Patrick had selected someone else, including, most certainly, an African-American, to fill the vacancy because of their demonstrated qualifications to take Massachusetts' seat in the Senate to replace John Kerry. So consider Louis Henry Gates, who may not be an expert on the debt but is a nationally-prominent figure with interesting things to say about race and, I suspect, immigration, as is true of William Julius Wilson, one of the nation's ranking academic students of structural unemployment and race. Or my friend Randy Kennedy, a distinguished Harvard Law School professor who has written seminal books on various aspects of race and the law. Or, to move away from race, why not appoint Peter Diamond, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who was prevented from taking a seat on the Federal Reserve Board because of the smarmy know-nothingism of Republican Sen. Richard Shelby, who claimed that Diamond, whose specialty is apparently the labor market, was unqualified for the Fed. It would really be wonderful if Massachusetts were represented, albeit for only four months, by Elizabeth Warren (also the victim of a Republican vendetta) and Peter Diamond.
For what it is worth, this is what the Times story announcing the appointment tells us about Senator-to-be Cowan. As I've already suggested, he sounds like a fine person who certainly deserves some public kudos, just not the interim appointment as United States Senator in these particularly parlous times:
Mr. Patrick and Mr. Cowan built up a strong friendship over the years, The Boston Globe reported, as both men rose from difficult childhoods to prominence in Boston and in the state. Mr. Patrick also served as a mentor to Mr. Cowan when both were practicing lawyers.
Mr. Cowan has also mentored many black professionals and has served as a talent scout frequently called upon to help diversify the city’s institutions. He helped former Gov. Mitt Romney, who faced criticism for the lack of diversity in his judicial picks, identifying minority lawyers who would make good judges. He recruited black lawyers for the law firm Mintz Levin and for the Middlesex County district attorney, Gerard T. Leone Jr.
“He’s cool,” Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray said of Mr. Cowan at a packed news conference at the statehouse, adding that George Clooney and James Bond “have nothing on Mo Cowan.”
Mr. Cowan, 43, is a former chief of staff and chief legal counsel to Mr. Patrick, the state’s first African-American governor. His appointment makes Mr. Cowan the second African-American to be seated in the current Senate, after Tim Scott of South Carolina was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley.
From 1997 to 2009, Mr. Cowan practiced civil litigation as an associate and later a partner in the Boston office of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo. He also served as a special assistant district attorney in the office of the Middlesex County district attorney. He left the Patrick administration last year with the intention of returning to the private sector but said this brief detour to Washington was a sacrifice worth making because he wanted to give something back to the state that had given him so much.
Mr. Patrick said that he notified Mr. Cowan only on Tuesday that he intended to name him. Mr. Cowan said he was proud to take the post, noting that his mother, who was home in North Carolina recovering from knee surgery, was a child of the segregated South, had not attended college and became a single mother at a young age.
“My mother told me that days like this were possible,” he said. He also said that he was not picked because he was African-American but because the governor had confidence that he could do the job.
Quoting his mother again, Mr. Cowan said that she had told him he was better than no one but that he was everyone’s equal.
He seemed to be a quick study in the senatorial art of not answering questions definitively. Asked, for example, if he would vote for defense cuts if they cost jobs in Massachusetts, he called for “a balanced approach,” with some cuts and some revenue growth.