In his farewell address to the Senate today, Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah did something rather unusual for a Republican these days: He talked about his opponents as though they are not crazed socialists, or America-hating foreigners, but as though they are reasonable, well-intentioned people with whom he happens to disagree on most things. His address was pretty remarkable in a lot of ways, not least because he talked proudly about how his father, who was also a senator, cast a vote in favor of the Civil Rights Act, even though most conservatives at the time found it an encroachment of government on individual liberty. But here's the key part. This is a partisan talking, but one who isn't full of hate:
The Democrats are the party of government. Going back to their roots with Franklin Roosevelt, they come to the conclusion that if there is a problem, government should solve that problem. The Republicans are the party of free markets, and they come to the conclusion that if there is a problem, it should be left to the markets to solve it. And they're both right.
That's the thing I have come to understand. There are some problems where government is the solution -- but not always. There are some problems when free markets do provide the solution -- but not always. And the tension between those two has run throughout the history of the republic....
And it's appropriate that those who believe in government should have strong advocates on their side. And those who believe in free markets should have equally strong advocates on their side. And because I believe in free markets, I'm a Republican, and I've been happy to be a Republican. And I've been careful to stand up for those things that I believe, and I've compiled a record that many of my friends on the Democratic side would consider fairly miserable in terms of wisdom on voting.
But let us understand in the debate that as we go back and forth between these two concepts that we do not question the motives or the patriotism of anyone on the other side or within our own caucuses...
Yes, there is a difference between the two parties. Yes, we disagree. But if we can disagree in an effort to solve the problems of the country and be willing on occasion to say maybe the other side is right, we will move forward.
Throughout his three terms, Bennett was extremely conservative -- his lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is a solid 84, for example. But he ended up losing the Republican nomination to Mike Lee, a radical Tea Party candidate who believes, among other things, that Social Security should be phased out and the 16th Amendment, which provides for a federal income tax, should be repealed. Why did Lee manage to unseat Bennett? Because Bennett had not only committed the sin of treating Democrats with something other than burning hatred, he had actually co-sponsored a health-reform bill with a Democrat.
But Bennett went out with some class.
-- Paul Waldman