Bob Bennett’s Defeat Shows Extremism in Politics

The senator deserved better than his stunning defeat by infuriated activists in Utah.

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Sen. Bob Bennett is an impressive politician. As a PBS NewsHour segment last night showed, he is a serious, thoughtful official, who believes in the virtue of holding sober debates about idea-driven policies. He had the temerity to shun the politics of angry diatribes that too often passes for mainstream political debate now--and he was defeated as a result. [See who gave the most to Bennett's campaign.]

In discussing his defeat at Utah's state GOP convention this year, he pointed out that "One of the complaints about me was, we don't see you on CNN, we don't see you on FOX screaming. ... You're sitting back there talking to these people, and we don't want that." Bennett made several important points in his interview with Judy Woodruff. He argued that the political anger "being fed by talk show hosts and others ... destroys" everything in its path and leaves nothing in its wake but a gaping void.

He highlighted the extremist bent of Tea Party activists that helped unseat him. They came to his events, and they refused to listen to anything he had to say. Instead, they "would hold up their copy of the Constitution, and they would say, if it's not in the Constitution, you shouldn't do it. Well, I'm not quite ready to go that far in my conservative views."
Bennett's defeat is a prime example of how fury--directed at Washington politicians, fueled by righteous anger over a damaged economy--can overtake and consume reasonable elected officials, who are willing to work with other principled pragmatists across the aisle on tough issues. Bennett's willingness to work with Sen. Ron Wyden on healthcare and his support for the bank bailout inspired the wrath of his Utah foes. That unorthodoxy partially explains his defeat. He acted in non-ideological ways on two big issues, and he attempted to do what he felt was right. I don't agree with Sen. Bennett on much, but I admire his sober assessment that politics now is too often "divided between the great issues and the great diversions"--and that "great diversions" often misdirect our attention. He deserved better than his stunning defeat by infuriated activists in Utah, who tossed him out for being insufficiently militant on government's role in American life. [See who supports Wyden.]

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