Sen. Bob Bennett served the state of Utah admirably for 18 years. He was, more than many, true to his principles, but he also was open to political compromises as a way to move the nation forward while blunting the ideological edges of an opposing party that held the majority.
That seems to be an unpardonable act in today's political climate.
Bennett may yet decide to run a write-in campaign this fall. In the meantime, pundits nationwide are trying to make sense of what happened at the Salt Palace on Saturday. Was it merely a local oddity — the product of a nominating process that isn't inclusive and that doesn't represent the state at-large — as some suggest? Or was it the beginning of a wave that will sweep the nation as an angry electorate ousts incumbents of all stripes? The picture may become a bit more clear next week in a primary election in Kentucky pitting a Republican with the backing of veteran party leadership against tea party favorite Rand Paul.
But the picture is blurred a bit by the fact that not all voter anger is tea-party-related, and that discontent appears to be widespread.
We share much of this discontent. The economic collapse of Greece is a wake-up call to the world of what will happen if industrialized nations allow themselves to grow the welfare state. Sooner or later, nations cannot sustain economies where too many people rely on the public sector for benefits; and sooner or later, out-of-control public debt will require difficult, if not politically impossible, decisions. The United States is on a collision course with both problems. Social Security, Medicare and now a new health care benefit will eat up much of the nation's economic output in the future, and a burgeoning debt raises legitimate concerns about the nation's ability to meet its obligations.
We understand, too, the concerns that so-called conservatives have let down the nation. Republicans took control of Congress in the 1990s and eventually the White House, as well. And yet it didn't take long for them to devolve into typical politicians with no thought for changing the status quo.
But Bennett didn't fit that mold.
Democracies flourish when they periodically refresh themselves by ousting entrenched politicians and electing people with new ideas. The strength of the United States remains the fact that, ultimately, the people are in control. But in politics, as in personal relationships, anger is seldom a good motivator.
Bennett is being punished, ostensibly, because he voted in favor of President George W. Bush's bank bailout bill. That was a difficult but necessary move to keep the nation from total economic collapse. It was much different than the foolhardly stimulus bailouts or the automotive industry takeovers orchestrated by the Obama administration. Bennett also co-sponsored a compromise health reform measure with a Democrat.
Those were two things during 18 years of service. More likely, he was just up for re-election in the wrong place and at the wrong time.