The small crusade of a dying man
Former Utah Senator Bob Bennett was a rock-ribbed Republican. But the Tea Party saw an opening in the way the Utah Republicans chose their nominees and they successfully gamed the caucus system to oust the long term incumbent Senator, sending shock waves through the GOP. The message was sent: we will take out loyal conservatives wherever we can find them just to show we can.
Well, Bennett lost his job and became sick with pancreatic cancer. And this story of his last days and his own small personal crusade is the saddest thing I've read in a long time:
Former GOP senator Bob Bennett lay partially paralyzed in his bed on the fourth floor of the George Washington University Hospital. He was dying.
Not 48 hours had passed since a stroke had complicated his yearlong fight against pancreatic cancer. The cancer had begun to spread again, necessitating further chemotherapy. The stroke had dealt a further blow that threatened to finish him off.
Between the hectic helter-skelter of nurses, doctors and well wishes from a long-cultivated community of friends and former aides, Bennett faced a quiet moment with his son Jim and his wife Joyce.
It was not a moment for self-pity.
Instead, with a slight slurring in his words, Bennett drew them close to express a dying wish: “Are there any Muslims in the hospital?” he asked.
“I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump,” Bennett told his wife and son, both of whom relayed this story to The Daily Beast.
The rise of Donald Trump had appalled the three-term Utah senator, a Republican who fell victim to the tea-party wave of the 2010 midterms. His vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, had alienated many conservative activists in his state, who chose lawyer Mike Lee as the GOP nominee for Senate instead.
But as Bennett reflected on his life and legacy in mid-April, following the stroke, he wasn’t focused on the race that ended his political career. Instead, he brought up the issue of Muslims in America—over and over again.
He mentioned it briefly in a hospital interview with the Deseret News, a Utah news outlet. “There’s a lot of Muslims here in this area. I’m glad they’re here,” the former senator told the newspaper in April, describing them as “wonderful.”
“In the last days of his life this was an issue that was pressing in his mind… disgust for Donald Trump’s xenophobia,” Jim Bennett said. “At the end of his life he was preoccupied with getting things done that he had felt was left undone.”
Trump’s proposal to ban Muslim immigrants from America had outraged the former senator, his wife Joyce said, triggering his instincts to do what he could on a personal level. They ultimately did not canvass the hospital, but Bennett had already made an effort in his last months of life.
As they traveled from Washington to Utah for Christmas break, Bennett approached a woman wearing a hijab in the airport.
“He would go to people with the hijab [on] and tell them he was glad they were in America, and they were welcome here,” his wife said. “He wanted to apologize on behalf of the Republican Party.”
“He was astonished and aghast that Donald Trump had the staying power that he had… He had absolutely no respect for Donald Trump, and I think got angry and frustrated when it became clear that the party wasn’t going to steer clear of Trumpism,” his son relayed.
How awful to be on your death bed and feel as if you had a hand in something like this becoming possible.
I disagreed with Bob Bennett about almost every policy. But he was not a monster. He is literally a dying breed of Republican.