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Monday, May 10, 2010
Coup? Outrage? Right Wing Run Amok?

None of the three, actually. Senator Bennett was defeated Saturday in a proper, fair electoral process -- and he lasted longer in the voting than any of the right-wing radicals on the ballot.

Brooks and Dionne Would Be Insufferable as Little League Parents

Yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press, David Brooks, who plays a conservative on television, called Senator Robert Bennett's defeat at the Utah State Republican Party Nominating Convention on Saturday "a damned outrage." Brooks explained that Senator Bennett is being punished for being "a good conservative who gets things done," by which he means that Bennett supported TARP and worked with the Democrats on health care legislation (though not ObamaCare specifically).

I didn't say that Brooks plays a conservative convincingly. The people who think he's a conservative do so because he's an inch and a half toward the center from where they're sitting, which is firmly on the left.

E. J. Dionne, whom no one mistakes for a conservative, piped up about then. He said Bennett's defeat was "almost a non-violent coup." He's upset because we delegates "denied the sitting Senator even a chance of getting on the primary ballot." That's not what I saw during the campaign and the convention.

Senator Bennett Had Every Chance

I was only one of 3500 delegates, but for the six weeks between the caucus and the convention, and for some months before that, I studied the issues and the candidates. I listened to Senator Bennett speak -- which I have long enjoyed, by the way; he is intelligent and articulate -- and I pondered what we might lose and what we might gain with someone else in the Senate. I didn't mistake Bennett for the Devil incarnate; everybody knows that Old Scratch only shows up on the ballot at the Utah County Republican convention, anyway. (I'd give you a link, but you'll have more fun if you simply google these three words: Rodeback, republican, and Satan.)

At debates and other events, including the convention, Bennett had an equal chance to speak his mind, which is more courtesy than the Left shows lately to conservatives in some places, when they're invited as speakers. Every time I saw and heard the Senator, he did well. I listened. I considered. So did many others. He had every chance to win, and he had the advantages of incumbency, as well as the disadvantages. His name was printed on the convention ballots in the same typeface and color and size as everyone else's. He had the same number of minutes to speak to the delegates at the convention, and nobody turned off the microphone when it was his turn. He just couldn't overcome his own record with enough of the delegates.

He finished third in a field of eight on two successive ballots. The first eliminated the five candidates below him; the second eliminated him. It was a proper and fair electoral process, not even remotely close to a coup. Bennett wasn't in any way denied an opportunity to win. He just didn't win.

Actually, We Delegates Eliminated the Radicals First

Later on the same program, George Will, who really is a conservative, explained things somewhat differently:

This is an anti-Washington year. How do you get more Washington than a three-term Senator who occupies the seat once held by his father, a four-term Senator, who before that worked on the Senate staff and then as a lobbyist in Washington? He's a wonderful man and a terrific Senator. But the fact is, he's going against terrific head-winds this year and he cast three votes: TARP, stimulus and an individual mandate for health care. Now, you might like one, two or all three of those, but being opposed to them is not outside the mainstream of American political argument. (my italics)

The Big Media Acronyms, not to mention a lot of the Utah media, are reporting Saturday's outcome as if it represents the victory of radical right-wingers over a sensible conservative. That story might fit the template the media like to impose on the world, but it's rather myopic. There were are least four radical right-wingers on the ballot. (I'm not sure how to classify candidate David Chiu.) The only radical who got any traction with the delegates was Cherilyn Eagar. We delegates eliminated all four of the radicals, including Eagar, on the first ballot.

I could be wrong, I suppose, but I've been studying Mike Lee and Tim Bridgewater carefully for months. I've talked with both of them, asking my questions, hearing their answers, and voicing my own concerns. I've been watching Senator Bennett for years, mostly with appreciation and admiration. I think I'm in a position to declare that the three candidates left after the first convention ballot were all mainstream conservatives, with one footnote: Senator Bennett tarnished his conservative credentials somewhat in the last couple of years. It's fair to say that he's a little less conservative than the other two, but he's still a conservative in my book. He's a great deal more conservative than media darling Senator John McCain. (As regards the Senator from Arizona, are you really a conservative if everyone else thinks you are, but other conservatives won't claim you?)

There are delegates who believe that Mike Lee is not really a reliable conservative, because he's an attorney -- a junior Bennett, some think, though Bennett was never an attorney. Others think Tim Bridgewater is less conservative than Lee. Some said that Bridgewater was the closest candidate in the field to Senator Bennett, and was just putting on conservative values for the campaign. I don't believe any of this. More to the point, I don't know anyone who studied the candidates who thinks that either Lee or Bridgewater is away over on the right wing with the likes of Cherilyn Eagar, Merrill Cook, or the other also-rans. Maybe the view from New York City and Washington, DC, is from such a great distance that pundits there can't see distinctions in Utah that are plain to the rest of us.

I voted for Mike Lee on all three ballots, but I'd happily have voted for Senator Bennett against any of the hard right-wingers who were eliminated on the first ballot. I might have voted for him against Tim Bridgewater.

The Routine Politics of a Democratic Republic

It wasn't a coup. It wasn't an outrage. It was 3500 delegates elected by their neighbors to sift carefully through the field of candidates and pick the ones we judged will serve Utah best. It was the routine politics of a democratic republic. If there is any outrage here, it is that people who ought to know better belittle the process on national television, if they don't happen to like the results on a particular day. One wonders if they would actually prefer a coup, as long as they liked the despot it elevated to power.

Tim Osborn comments (5/12/2010, via Facebook):

Well said, David. Thank you for your diligence as a delegate and for taking this so seriously. We truly live in troubled times and we do need even keeled representatives who will lead with principle that we are missing in Washington and all over the US.

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