A former writer for Buzzfeed gave a quirky anecdote on Facebook recently about spending time with Nebraska’s Junior U.S. Senator Ben Sasse:
Ben Sasse grabbed my arm in a Senate hallway & said “Watch this.” He swung us into a nearby Georgia Senator’s office, walked right past the receptionist, got down on one knee & started raiding the fully stocked mini-fridge of Coca-Cola products. “What do ya want? It’s an open bar!” he shouted.
Arms full of drinks, he thanked the “good people of Georgia” for their “donation to Freedom,” bowed & walked out.
I shrugged at the exasperated receptionist. “He does this every day,” she said.
One of Sasse’s campaign lieutenants thought this was a good-one, and Tweeted it out.
Other readers emailed it to me, with a sort of astounded, “is this for real?”
It’s easy to look at it both ways.
Sort of a quirky, fun, playing-out-of-bounds kind of guy.
(The Georgia Senator’s staff probably thought it was pretty funny, the first few times.)
Or, a knock-it-off already, what are you doing here?, strange move.
(The Georgia Senator’s staff probably tired of it, after the first few times.)
So here is Ben Sasse: a Freshman U.S Senator, who is already making national news. He has become the darling of the right. He represents a fresh face in politics and Washington, among the stodgy old gray-haired men who have populated it since it rose from a swamp.
There was a similar rise by a young politician from Nebraska.
Bob Kerrey was the smart, young Governor who came out of nowhere to beat incumbent Charlie Thone in 1982.
He dated a movie star! He danced at the Springsteen concert!
He forced a train full of nuclear waste to halt at the Nebraska border, and obey his commands, before it moved across Nebraska.
He was “Rockin’ Bob Kerrey” and everyone loved him!
But at some point…his quirks stated to show.
He quit as a one-term Governor, only to make a comeback as a Senator.
But soon, even those in Washington found his continual wavering to be…distracting.
He went from “Rockin’ Bob” to…“Cosmic Bob”.
He eventually left the Senate and moved to New York City — where he was arguably happier with his new family.
(If you ever read the follow up to Anonymous Joe Klein’s “Primary Colors” — “The Running Mate” — you can see that it is essentially about Kerrey — a former war-hero Presidential candidate who moves to New York and becomes “happy” with his new surroundings.)
And then when he tried to make a comeback, 30 years after Nebraskans had first met him, he ran into a female cattle rancher who suggested that she was “someone who will bring Nebraska to Washington, not Washington to Nebraska.”
Nebraskans were done with Cosmic Bob, and he shuffled back to be happy with his family in New York City.
These days Kerrey still makes the rounds on some of the cable politics shows. But when Nebraskans refer to “Bob”, they’re talking about a bridge named after him.
This is not to say that Ben Sasse is on any trajectory that Bob Kerrey was on. But he has already staked out a different position than most are used to.
He arguably was not the national party’s first pick for the Republican nomination and bucked some of the traditional campaign methods, to win the seat.
He has shown that he is hip these days with the younger demographic, by going directly to the people using social media’s YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to deliver his message.
He is continuing to buck his own party on its Presidential nominee, even going so far as to knock his home state Republican base.
Many say, hey, “I like that quirky, fun, playing out-of-bounds style.”
While others are saying, “Knock it off.”
In this year of Bernie and The Donald, Sasse’s “Bust in and grab some pop!” kind of style may be just what the electorate ordered.
Then again, as maybe he was saying to the Washington press corps, Nebraska doesn’t always ride with the rest of the electorate.
The local press seem to be fomenting some sort of a rift between Junior Senator Ben Sasse and Senior Senator Deb Fischer.
For what it’s worth Deb Fischer, as noted above, suggested back in 2012 when she was running against Bob Kerrey — before anyone in politics had heard of Ben Sasse — that she is “someone who will bring Nebraska to Washington, not Washington to Nebraska.”
And Ben Sasse’s first proposal on the 2014 Senate campaign trail was this:
“We move the Capitol to Nebraska.”
Probably the same campaign slogan, put in two different ways. Probably.
Bob Kerrey told CNBC that because he increasingly doesn’t agree with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, he feels like “a man without a party.” Former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel said a while back, “the Republican party left me.”
And Ben Sasse says he is on the “neither” Presidential bandwagon — but with a dwindling Third Party option, it is not clear which way he will steer.
As some will say, that’s Ben Sasse being Ben Sasse.
At some point Nebraskans may decide whether that means he’s Rockin’, or Cosmic.