SALT LAKE CITY — When former U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett was inducted into the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics Hall of Fame Wednesday, he told students to remember "true believers" are a danger to society.
"You have opinions. You have principals in politics, and you should. But hold them forever tentative," Bennett said. "Be prepared to change when new information comes along and shows you that maybe that concept was not exactly right. Because most of the problems that come are from those who are not in any way ever going to change their position on any subject, whether it be from the left or right."
Political leaders who work across the aisle can "invent a new future," Bennett said, one where Democrats and Republicans work together to come up with the right solutions.
"Who's right? They both are," he said.
When a student asked how to proceed in a political career when it's difficult to align fully with a single party, since both sides are becoming increasingly polarized, Bennett said: "Decide whether you're a government person or a free market person, and then get in there and tell all the true believers to shape up and get with the program."
Wednesday's ceremony was meant to recognize Bennett's impact on the state and the nation, but the politician-turned-college professor spoke as if teaching a lesson — one that evoked occasional laughter from the crowd of academics and political leaders who filled the Hinckley Caucus Room.
Bennett drew his from his 18-year political career, when he served in the U.S. Senate from 1992 to 2011.
At the end of his third term, Utah Republican Party delegates ousted Bennett, known as a moderate Republican, in favor of tea party candidate Mike Lee, who is running for a second term this year.
Hinckley Institute Director Jason Perry praised Bennett for also serving as a resident scholar for the institute, a role in which he said Bennett has "touched the lives of hundreds of students and instilled in them the importance of education, sound policy and civil service."
That's why, Perry said, Bennett has been inducted into the institute's hall of fame to join his father, former Sen. Wallace Bennett.
"This is the highest honor we have to give, and there is no one more deserving," Perry said. "During his remarkable 18-year tenure, (Bennett) earned a reputation for tackling critical issues with creative, pragmatic and bipartisan solutions."
Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said Bennett personifies the qualities that are required to succeed in politics and gain the institute's hall of fame status: trustworthiness, properly placed loyalty, dignity and "the ability to balance and co-achieve statesmanship and gamesmanship.
Leavitt said Bennett knew how to do thing right thing for the state, but he also knew how to play the political game.
"I never saw (Bennett) lose his temper in all these years," Leavitt said. "His influence, tone and his manner is what gave him power."
Bennett thanked institute leaders for the recognition and their "outrageously generous" comments. He said, however, it's the future of the Hinckley Institute that really matters.
He pointed to an inscription on the wall of the Hinckley Caucus Room, the words of the institute's founder, Robert H. Hinckley: "Our young, best minds must be encouraged to enter politics."
He said government needs those bright minds, those who are best equipped to deal with the changing world.
"We are at a key moment in the history of civilization that requires our best minds involved in politics," Bennett said. "I say with some facetiousness, but also I think with accuracy, that the Senate is in an interesting place, superbly structured to deal with the problems of the 19th century. And we need the best young minds that can react to the realities of the information revolution."
Bennett also urged students to follow their conscience and to not rely so strongly on their political careers, that they start making decisions based on their political success and not the benefit of their community.
"Some of the worst examples are people who have cut corners with their conscience in order to stay in office, afraid that if they left office, they couldn't support their families," he said. "Have something you can turn to so you're not living from one election to the next."