How can you claim that a senator who has a lifetime score of 85 from the American Conservative Union to be “not conservative enough” for any state?
You can if you are a member of the modern Republican party. You can if the senator in question – Bob Bennett of Utah – made the horrible mistake of taking his responsibilities as a senator seriously. Senator Bennett was unaware that the modern Republican party demands that he seek to constantly score political points against his opponents by exaggerated and outrageous name calling rather than thoughtfully approach issues that concern his constituents and look to address their problems.
For this, he has been tossed aside by Utah Republicans and will not appear on the ballot this November.
Bennett, along with his Democratic colleague from Oregon Ron Wyden, made a serious attempt to address the health insurance problem in America with a flawed, but earnest effort at comprehensive reform. Called “The Healthy Americans Act,” the bill incorporated some standard liberal thinking like an individual mandate, but was also innovative in the way costs would be shared and how the program would be administered at the state level. It would also have done away with Medicaid – a plus in any conservative’s book. In short, it was a good old fashioned senate compromise on a thorny issue that, in another less mindlessly partisan time, would have served as a starting point for the two parties to work out their differences.
It wasn’t just his dalliance with the “enemy” that angered right wingers in Utah. Bennett courageously voted against the Constitutional amendment to prohibit flag burning back in 2006 – one of only three GOP senators to do so. He also supported comprehensive immigration reform. While there was a lot wrong with that bill, the guest worker provision had broad bi-partisan support and Bennett worked tirelessly to improve it. As for the rest of it, the best that could be said of the measure was that it was attempting to address a problem for which there are probably no good answers. That Bennett felt responsible enough as a legislator to lend his name and support to the bill reveals much about how seriously he views his office.
Alas, Bennett’s base of conservatives in Utah didn’t see it that way. Egged on by a massive infusion of cash by the Washington, D.C. based Club For Growth, Utah conservatives plotted to ambush Bennett at the state convention where he needed at least 40% of the delegates to vote for his candidacy in order for him to take part in a closed primary with the other leading candidate. (If he had received 60%, he would have won the nomination outright.)
In the end, Bennett received 26% at the convention and his 18 year senate career of exemplary public service will come to an end. Chris Chocola, President of Club for Growth, who poured $200,000 into the effort to defeat Bennett, said, “Utah Republicans made the right decision today for their state and sent a clear message that change is finally coming to Washington.” The CFG is angry at Bennett for supporting TARP in the fall of 2008 – a bill desired by a Republican president and pushed by a Republican Treasury Secretary.
How “conservative” is making a change simply for the sake of change? Not very conservative at all. And despite the fact that polls showed a plurality of Utah Republicans supported Bennett’s candidacy, he was defeated largely because he is identified with a GOP leadership that is perceived as insufficiently rabid in their opposition to President Obama and the Democrats. The Tea Party forces don’t want cooperation with the opposition to address the pressing needs of the people; they want war. And any Republican incumbent viewed as less than ideologically committed to total victory will be in trouble this year.
Senator Bob Bennett may not be as far to the right as many Republicans in Utah would wish. But their loss is more than they can imagine. A senator with Bennett’s seniority shouldn’t be sidelined so precipitously, and it very well may be that right wingers in Utah will rue the day they so gleefully shelved a fine public servant.