By John Aloysius Farrell, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I am sure there is something nice to be said for the public career of U.S. Sen. Robert Bennett, who was ousted by his fellow Republicans in Utah the other day. It seems that the Tea Party crazies there require a level of frenzy that Bennett could not meet, and so they dumped him. Washington commentators, like Ross "Let's try fascism!" Douthat, have deplored the Tea Party hastiness, and issued the usual Beltway tributes to the veteran senator. I am told by Utah journalists, whose opinions I value, that Bennett is not so bad a guy.
But I remember, as well, what Noah Cross told Jake Gittes: "Of course I'm respectable. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."
And I've lasted long enough to remember when Bennett was just as mean, and vicious, and injurious to America, as the Tea Party crowd his friends deplore.
Karma. Bennett was a happy Torquemada on the Senate Whitewater Committee, that sleazy Republican-led inquisition that spent its time concocting fantasies, and tarring the good name and tormenting the family of Vincent Foster, a troubled counsel in the Clinton White House who committed suicide in 1993.
Foster was clinically depressed, and chagrined by the cutthroat politics of Washington. "Here ruining people is considered sport," he wrote, in the closest thing to a suicide note.
Men and institutions I admired, and who should have known better--Bob Dole, Bill Safire, the New York Times and others--joined in the chase, and kept the Whitewater fable alive. And two paragons of good government--Sen. Al D'Amato of New York, who served as chairman, and Michael Chertoff, the majority counsel--led the committee's investigation. Yes, that is the same Michael Chertoff who, as the Secretary of Homeland Security, did such a fine job during Hurricane Katrina. Character is destiny.
Bennett was a newly-elected freshman then, and to make his bones he toed the line, and joined in the carnival of subpoenas, snide questions and ugly accusations. Foster's family, the Clintons and their aides, and our country deserved better.
America has been lucky, or gifted, perhaps. In those times in our history when our democracy has been threatened by demagogues, heroes have stepped forward, and said, "Enough." Bennett could have been a profile in courage during Whitewater. He chose the other course. Now, barring a long-shot write-in campaign, his career's been ended by much the same forces he rode back then. Don't let the door hit you on your way out, senator.