Sen. Robert Bennett, 82, died yesterday—a one-two punch of pancreatic cancer and a recent stroke.
The Salt Lake Tribune has two excellent tributes to him, including:
- A standard obituary by Thomas Burr exploring his background and political contributions
- A touching column written by his niece, religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack. It’s not often that Peggy gets personal in the Tribune, and this is a beautiful reflection on “Uncle Bob,” who helped out with the medical bills when Peggy’s daughter passed away. He also provided her with tickets—and a free place to stay—for President Obama’s first inauguration.
Something that comes home in both pieces is Senator Bennett’s willingness to seek solutions and his refusal to become entrenched in ideology for its own sake. What tanked his political career was the rise of the Tea Party and Bennett’s own decision, during the financial crisis, to vote for the TARP bill that he believed would save our nation from the brink of financial disaster. It did—but tell that to the angry hordes who promptly booted him from office for the sin of cooperating with Democrats.
In my mind it’s hard not to link Sen. Bennett’s passing yesterday with the disturbing news that preceded it the night before: that with Tuesday’s withdrawal of Ted Cruz from the Republican run for the presidency, Donald Trump will be the 2016 GOP nominee.
Trump and Bennett could not be more opposite.
- Trump comes to the table with absolutely no experience of public service, Bennett with a lifetime of it—and then some, since his father held the same Senate seat before him.
- Trump stakes his claim on saying the most outrageous, insulting things possible about outsider groups, hoping to stoke suspicion and even hatred in the American voter. Bennett took the opposite tack, praising U.S. Muslims for their contributions to American life and refusing to engage in the scapegoating of a minority group.
- Robert Bennett was a man of deep religious faith. Some years ago, when I was involved in a small group of Mormon scholars who met annually, Sen. Bennett opened his D.C. office to us for the day to hold our meeting. During a break from his work, he came to join us at the conference table, expressing gratitude for our work. He also told us about a book he was working on about the Book of Mormon, a project done in his spare time as a labor of love.
- Bennett was a consistent conservative, Trump a mere opportunist. And while I didn’t agree with most of Bennett’s political positions, I had respect for him as a person. I have zero respect for Trump.
In short, Robert Bennett was a politician because he saw it as a platform to do good for the nation. Donald Trump wants to reinvent himself as a politician because he sees the presidency as an irresistible platform for his narcissism.
Maybe it’s a blessing that Bennett won’t live to see the further implosion of the political party—and the nation—he worked to build and protect.