The only time I shared oxygen with Sen. Bob Bennett, he was speaking to a group of student journalists at the University of Utah. We have almost no political common ground, though he almost won me over when he mentioned that he considered a cousin of mine, Mary Pappasideris, to be one of the smartest people he’d ever met. Well, she is. Bennett didn’t know I was there, not that he’d know me anyway. We don’t hang out at the same watering holes.
Yet, Bennett holds a prominent place
in the history of City Weekly. Anyone coming
into our office has seen the enlargement
of our June 10, 1992, cover, our
first as a weekly newspaper (we previously
published bi-weekly). Next to a
photo of a younger Bob Bennett in full
Senate stride reads the headline, “The
Spooky Past of Bob Bennett.” At the time,
Bennett was considered by some to be
Watergate’s mysterious “Deep Throat,”
the clandestine courier of information to
Washington Post investigative reporters
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein whose
stories about high-level political involvement
in the Watergate break-in led to the
resignation of President Nixon. Around
City Weekly, Bennett has been considered
something of a boogeyman ever since.
But he wasn’t Deep Throat. Or, in the
spirit of boogeyman-ness, he wasn’t the
deepest Deep Throat. Still, over time, it’s
harder and harder to look at that cover
and think Bennett is a terrible guy. Sure,
I’m Greek, and he hasn’t done a damned
thing for the Greek community that I’m
aware of, and sure, he helped ensure that
our former offices on 400 South were
demolished to make way for a new federal
courthouse, a financial black hole. Sure,
Bennett was among those who marched
us to war in Iraq. We don’t see eye to eye.
But, this is also surety: Bennett may
be on the “wrong” side of the health-care
debate, but he’s more right than nearly
every other one of his Republican counterparts
in the U.S. House and Senate. His
Healthy American Act, a bipartisan bill cosponsored
with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.,
promises to provide health insurance to
all Americans, while also promising not to
add to the federal deficit. Bookies give it
no chance and not because it’s a bad bill.
As sure as a BYU football huddle sends
mild-mannered office managers into
homophobic hypertension, right-wing nutjobs
(there is no longer such a person as a
right-wing conservative) want no part of it.
Too much like Obama’s bill, they say, and
that means more government, they say.
Naturally, they only offer phrases stolen
from Fox News to bastion their position,
but who needs logic
or education when
all you need to do is
scare the crap out of
want to win with their
own bill championed
by President Obama.
But Obama is nearly
as black as a Carbon County coal seam, and
that doesn’t sit well in some parts—Utah
and South Carolina, for instance. And he
doesn’t have a valid birth certificate. And
he says nice things about Muslims now and
then, proof that his middle name is no accident.
And he wants you to die before you
want to die, because Sarah Palin said so.
He doesn’t just want government involved
in your health care, he wants a chip in your
head. You do have a chip in your head, don’t
you? Good, Comrade.
Talk of decent health care is getting
ugly. Glenn Beck’s recent organized protest
against the Obama plan—but disguised
as a “unity” march—was to unity
what a helicopter is to deep-sea exploration.
It was depressing. Those folks are
angry, all right. You would be, too, if you
woke up one day and found that some
government-funded study discovered
that milk is healthier than a Big Gulp. Or
that riding a motorcycle with a helmet is
safer than riding one without.
A couple of years ago, Utah Attorney
General Mark Shurtleff wrecked on his
motorcycle, crushing a leg. He’s had
numerous surgeries and has spent nearly
the whole time in various stages of rehabilitation
on the leg he nearly lost. I’m
pretty sure he was wearing a helmet, but
no matter, he’s gone nuts just the same—
he thinks embarrassing the AG office is a
qualifier for the U.S. Senate.
President Obama spoke to Congress
and the nation last week. At one point,
Sen. Bob Bennett rose with Democrats
and a few other Republicans to show support
when Obama denounced Palin’s false
claims of “death panels” while advocating
his own plan. For
that act of statesmanship,
Shurtleff fired off
a broadside denouncing
Bennett and implying
Bennett is a devil
liberal. “In Washington
D.C., you are known for
the company you keep,”
is how the Shurtleff
camp put it. How lucky
for Shurtleff, then, to be from Utah, where
keeping dubious company—as Shurtleff
has—doesn’t seem to matter.
Shurtleff also benefits from the same
“socialist” government health care Utahns
seem to oppose. If Shurtleff had his motorcycle
wreck while working in private practice,
he’d have lost that practice. If he
worked for a company without a decent
health plan, he’d have lost the farm. Utahns
paid the medical bills for his motorcycle
folly. Yet, he stands up and criticizes
Bennett, whose only fault on this issue is
twofold: Bennett has kissed the butts of
neither the left nor the right.
Shurtleff is proving to be a bona fide butt kisser, and he’s turned to time-worn right-wing crutches for support, leftist and centrist Utahns be damned. He’s also known to use real crutches. Someday someone’s going to kick them out from under him.