Senator Bob Bennett, a three-term Republican senator from Utah, passed away Wednesday evening. I never met him, and never particularly cared for his political views. But my wish to bow my head, offer condolences to his family, and wish his soul godspeed at this time isn’t simply a consequence of the vague imperative we all so often feel to speak well of the departed. The plain fact of the matter is that Bob Bennett in so many ways very clearly embodied the classic ideal of a “senator” (the original meaning of which being, quite simply, “wise old man”), and that is a thing worth high praise.
Bennett had already had a long career in business and government when the opportunity came for him to run for an open U.S. Senate seat and return to Washington D.C., where he’d already spent much of his life, in 1992. (Full disclosure: I volunteered for Wayne Owens, his Democratic opponent, during that campaign.) His election to the Senate, at a time when most others would be thinking about retirement, fit him perfectly. With his quietly authoritative demeanor (being 6′ 6″ and thin didn’t hurt), his folksy yet precise speaking voice, his carefully formulated public pronouncements and statements, his political reserve even while in debate and argument, and most of all the immense respect he always expressed for the institution of the Senate–a place that, believe it or not kids, some people used to actually non-ironically describe as the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”–his election to the Senate (and his re-election in 1998 and 2004) seemed to be exactly what a man like Bob Bennett was destined for. I’m a political junkie, and like most political junkies, it’s hard for me not to categorize professional politicians as particular types. Bennett’s type was Old-School Senator, in every way: he believed in the institution, and that belief shaped his own career through it. As he himself summarized so well here:
It is, perhaps, depressingly appropriate that Senator Bennett, who lost his seat to a lesser man powered by what I called at the time a “context-free, tantrum-prone, angry confidence in individualism,” should pass away on a day when the leadership of his own party accepted a contemptuous, petulant, ignorant blowhard as their presidential candidate. It’s a sad day, a feeling that ought to be experienced by everyone who believes self-government ought to be ennobling, rather than degrading. So let us, instead, remember a man who embodied the former, and whose example calls us to do the same.
After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant-for-truth was taken with a summons by the same post as the other, and had this for a token that the summons was true, “That his pitcher was broken at the fountain.” When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it. Then said he, I am going to my Father’s; and though with great difficulty I have got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who will now be my rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the river-side, into which as he went, he said, “Death, where is thy sting?” And as he went down deeper, he said, “Grave, where is thy victory?” So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, Part II, Ch. XIII
Senator Bob Bennett, 1933-2016, Requiescat in pace.