Published for www.washingtonpost.com, May 24, 2012

By endorsing Deb Fischer — the surprise winner of Nebraska’s Republican Senate primary — Sarah Palin let a competent candidate slip through her normal screening process. Fischer is no Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell — tea party favorites in 2010 who seemed to view accomplishment and deliberation as pernicious establishment vices. Fischer is a tough, effective, respected state legislator — and, in the few polls available so far, is leading her Democratic opponent, Bob Kerrey.

In electing Fischer, Nebraskans would send a staunch, predictable conservative to Washington, which has considerable merit. But Kerrey complicates the choice. Ideological conformity is relatively common in the nation’s capital. Independent thought is rarer. And a Democrat who is keen to confront the nation’s largest challenge — a fiscal crisis driven by entitlement costs — is rarest of all.

Speaking by phone from the campaign trail in Nebraska, Kerrey rattles off the statistics on fewer workers supporting the benefits of a larger number of retirees as federal entitlement spending squeezes out every other public investment in the general welfare.

“Our future as a great country depends on our ability to resolve this problem,” he says. It has been his consistent warning since he co-chaired the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement Reform in the early 1990s. And it is the cause that has led him back into elective politics after an 11-year absence.

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