12(ish) Questions with Senator Robert F. Bennett

May 12, 2005 | 20 comments
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A while ago, we announced that Senator Robert F. Bennet (R-Ut) had agreed to do 12 Questions with T&S. Senator Bennett has read all of the posted questions and offers his answers to the questions below.

Greetings from Senator Bob Bennett,

You posted lots more than twelve questions.

First, the factual stuff:

No, I am not now, nor have I ever been, Deep Throat. How that urban legend got started, and then made it into the MSM, is another story, too long and too irrelevant to relate here.

No, I was never an editor at the Chrony, but I did write a weekly political column, back in 1952-53. For that, I have been inducted into the Chrony Hall of Fame. I’m not making that up; I have the plastic block with my name on it to prove it.

Yes, it is possible to be a faithful Mormon and a Republican. It is also possible to be a faithful Mormon and a Democrat. I said, at the time, that I agreed with about 98% of what Elder Marlin Jensen said, and that’s pretty good, because I don’t agree with 98% of what I say.

No, there is no Mormon Caucus in Washington, but yes, we do get together from time to time, usually when a General Authority drops in and wants to talk to us in a general way. I am the tallest insofar as I know.

No, I have never talked to the Brethren about stem cells or any other issue, in terms of having them counsel me on how I should vote. They leave that up to us.

No, there is no lingering anti-Mormonism in the Senate, although there are some Religious Right Senators who are not sure we are Christians. I think they all think I am, though, as I would note, for the record, that I was Leader of the Senate Prayer Breakfast for two years, and, as such, conducted the National Prayer Breakfast on one occasion.

On Interfaith activity — When I went to Russia to see if I could convince the Russian government to change a law that was seen as discriminating against the Church’s missionary system, I met with Russian representatives of other faiths — Jewish, Catholic, various Protestants — who believed that they had the same problem with the law that we did, and urged me to plead their case as well. I did, and the US Ambassador was kind enough to say that it helped. When the Chairman of the Religious Committee of the Russian Duma found out I was a Mormon, his reaction was clearly positive.

Yes, as a non-lawyer, I do bring a different perspective to the Senate, but we are all prisoners of our own experiences, which means that each Senator has a different perspective. Since all of the legislation is written by the Senate’s Legislative Counsel, and I have a good lawyer on my staff, I don’t feel at a disadvantage. I might if I served on the Judiciary Committee, but that’s Orrin’s turf.

Yes, I have good friendships with Democrats, on a personal basis. They are not as public as the Hatch — Kennedy relationship has become, but they are there. I was — still am — on good terms with Carol Moseley-Braun and Dale Bumpers, very much enjoyed Pat Moynihan, have long discussions about religion with Joe Biden, get along well with Joe Leiberman and Kent Conrad, consider Chris Dodd a very good friend, and so on — these are not the only ones; there are more.

All of these senators know I am a Mormon, of course, and in every case it has either not been a barrier or has been a definite positive.

Yes, I have a good friendship with Harry Reid, and respect him a great deal. It started because we are both active Mormons, but it has grown because he is a good senator, one who is devoted to making the process work and always keeps his word. (As are the others I’ve mentioned.) Harry and I work well together on Western issues and have accomplished a great deal. We simply agree to disagree on the partisan ones. (I like a lot of the Republicans, too, but that wasn’t the question so I won’t try to list them.)

Now, for some of the perspective issues, that don’t call for a yes or no answer.

I don’t see any need for a Mormon “Think Tank” because there are very few issues that impact the Gospel in a way that would require “Think Tanking” to figure them out. I do not believe that one can make a “Mormon Case” for being either a Republican or a Democrat. (I remember Neal Maxwell saying once, when the issue was current, “I don’t think the Lord cares whether the Minimum Wage is $1.15 or $1.25.”)

The country is full of single issue groups who try to dictate their versions of ideological purity to the parties — the militant Feminists, the National Rifle Association, the anti-war activists, the Religious Right — but, Party Platforms notwithstanding, there is room in both for people of almost every opinion, depending on where they put their priorities. There are gays who hate the Marriage Amendment but vote Republican because of our approach to taxes. There are small business owners who vote Democratic because of their stand on drilling in ANWR. Even on the issue of Abortion, there are Pro-Choice Republicans — Rudy Giuliani, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Alan Simpson — and Pro-Life Democrats — Harry Reid and the former Governor Casey of Pennsylvania, whose son is now running as a Pro-Life challenger to Rich Santorum.

As for Mormons; accountability in politics, read Section 134. I do not see our doctrinal positions threatened by Civil Libertarians. The Political Correctness Police, yes; Civil Libertarians, no.

Regarding Utah’s “political landscape,” which is assumed to be under Mormon domination. I heard a careful analysis of the exit polling data from the 2004 election. The man presenting it had no idea I was a Mormon. His main conclusion was that the old dividing line between the parties, which was always assumed to be economic — working man, Democrat; small business owner, Republican — has largely disappeared. He said, “The new dividing line is cultural. Here is what the data show now: if you are unmarried, have no children, do not attend Church and live in an area that is either stagnant or shrinking, your cultural values are likely to be Democratic. If you are married, have a family, go to Church regularly and live in an area that is growing, you are likely to be a Republican.” Is that last sentence a description of Utah, or what?

This suggests that the Republican dominance in Utah is less Mormon than we think it is – that Utah would still be Republican if we were all Catholics and Protestants, as long as we were married in the same ratio, had the same families, attended our churches in the same numbers, and the state was still on track to double its population in the next 30 years or so. Maybe we should recognize that Utahns follow the same patterns as the rest of Americans, and stop attributing more to Church influence than it deserves.

One question had to do what life was like at the University of Utah when I went there. There were Mormon-bashing professors, but generally they were not very good professors, so most students avoided them if they could, even the students who thought the Church was silly. There were also professors who were clearly at odds with the Church, but respected the attitudes of those who were in it. They didn’t hide their doubts, but they didn’t let them get in the way of their teaching. They were among the better professors, and students sought out their classes. I have no idea if that is still the case, but I would hope so.

Does being a Mormon affect the way I approach an issue? Of course. I said earlier that we are all prisoners of our own experiences. Mine include service as missionary in a foreign country, raising our children as Mormons in a school district that was predominantly Jewish (in Los Angeles), serving as a Bishop and working in politics and business most of my adult life. All these impact the way I think about issues and vote on them, just as Joe Lieberman’s experiences as a practicing Jew in predominantly Gentile America impact him. You can’t get away from it.

I was interested to meet all the Owens volunteers. A word about campaigns:

My first serious campaign experience was in 1962, when I worked full time for a year to re-elect my father. President Henry D. Moyle was a member of our ward, and I took the opportunity to talk to him. He was a Democrat, by the way.

Dad’s opponent was David S. King, who was a member of the General Superintendency of the Young Men’s MIA, which made him almost a General Authority. I asked President Moyle what my bounds were in a campaign. I said that I always wanted to build up a fellow holder of the Priesthood, not tear him down, and I wondered how I should behave in a contest pitting one faithful High Priest against another.

He said, “You can’t be thin skinned in politics, Bob. Work as hard as you can to win, and press for every advantage. Just be sure that you always tell the truth. I trust your conscience — tell the truth and you’ll be fine.”

I’ve always remembered and tried to live by that advice.

For those who asked what a good Mormon should do in politics, I say, get involved. Volunteer for a campaign. Choose which Party most nearly matches your values and your view of the right solutions to Society’s problems — as I’ve said, neither one will do so perfectly — and then go to work to get its candidates elected.

For the one who asked which was more important — character or the right position on the issues — remember that politics is a team sport. You are not just electing a single candidate, you are helping to choose which party’s leadership will control the Congress. If you think one party has the best solutions, and the race in which you vote will determine whether or not that party prevails, vote for the party. If the leadership in Congress (or the City Council, or the State Legislature) will remain the same regardless of who is chosen from your District, you can be a little less swayed by party affiliation.

When it comes to selecting a governor or president, you also have to pay attention to a very important factor which you didn’t mention — instinct.

Truly presidential decisions, the ones that only the president can make, are fraught with so many possible side effects and unknowable consequences that no one, no matter how smart, can ever really figure them out. Such decisions are always made in the gut, not the head – by instinct. Jimmy Carter is a man of sterling character, but terrible instincts. He is also very smart; still, his presidency was pretty much a failure. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was considered a dummy, but his instincts were much better. For example, when all of his advisors tried to take “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” out of his Berlin speech, claiming that it was too inflammatory, too provocative, his instincts told him to use it anyway, and he did. Now it’s considered one of the great presidential lines of all time, a turning point in the Cold War.

Character as well as position on issues are both very important, but they are not the only criteria for casting your vote. Go for the optimist with good political instincts.

I haven’t talked to Mitt Romney about stem cells. But, does he or any Mormon have a chance to be president? Sure. A key factor will be who his opponents are, should he choose to run. Politics is about making choices, and some who say they would never vote for a Mormon are speaking in the abstract, not in the voting booth, where the alternative might appear even worse. Think of those lukewarm about Bush who decided that they couldn’t take Kerry. And the other way around.

Will missionaries enter Afghanistan soon? Or Iraq? Some are already there, in the form of the servicemen — I’ve heard of some baptisms among the Kurds. I’ll leave the timing up to the Lord.

Finally, why did I get into politics? By now, you can see that it’s been in my blood for a long, long time. I was 7 when I decided that President Roosevelt shouldn’t break tradition and go for a third term, and I suppose I’ve had the virus ever since.

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20 Responses to 12(ish) Questions with Senator Robert F. Bennett

  1. lyle stamps on May 12, 2005 at 5:21 pm

    Thank you for your time Senator. An educational and straitforward read.

    Note, I have no desire to follow the Senator’s footsteps; but I am encouraged that I’m not the only person to have formed a political opinion before age 8 [Mine was telling my grandma to vote for Reagan in 1980 when I was 5].

  2. john fowles on May 12, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    My three-year-old told me to vote for John this time around. By that I assumed she meant John Kerry.

  3. A. Greenwood on May 12, 2005 at 6:01 pm

    Thank you, sir.

  4. Jim F on May 12, 2005 at 6:13 pm

    Thou almost persuadest me to be a Republican!

  5. Bonjo on May 12, 2005 at 6:16 pm

    Interesting and informative (and highly diplomatic, as I suppose was to be expected).

    When I’ve disagreed with public officials who are members of the church, I’ve had the same feelings as Senator Bennet (i.e., building up a fellow holder of the Priesthood, not tearing him down).

    “…be sure that you always tell the truth. I trust your conscience – tell the truth and you’ll be fine.”

    Great advice.

  6. J. Stapley on May 12, 2005 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you.

  7. Gordon Smith on May 12, 2005 at 8:43 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to do this, Senator Bennett.

  8. Gordon Smith on May 12, 2005 at 8:43 pm

    Oh, yeah, I suppose I should mention that I am not that Gordon Smith, though a lot of people thought I was when I lived in Oregon!

  9. a random John on May 12, 2005 at 9:07 pm

    I am absolutely stunned that he not only answered my question, but answered it first.

    Now for a follow-up:
    Do you regret that you are not Deep Throat?

  10. Silus Grok on May 12, 2005 at 10:20 pm

    I have met you on a number of occasions, senator, and each time I am deeply impressed by your candor, insight, and integrity.

    I don’t always agree with your politics… but you’re a stand-up man in my book, and will get my vote every time you run.

    Thank you for your time here.

  11. John H on May 13, 2005 at 12:45 am

    Cool! Great comments – thanks Senator and Nate (I assume) for putting this together.

  12. Keith on May 13, 2005 at 1:56 am

    Thanks, Senator Bennett. I enjoyed reading this. Given all that you have to do, it was very good of you to take time to answer our questions..

  13. Shawn Bailey on May 13, 2005 at 9:31 am

    Thanks! Like John (no. 9) I am also delighted by your thoughtful answers to my questions. Although I was a Chrony editor, I haven’t heard from the hall of fame yet!

  14. Doc-Kwadwo on May 13, 2005 at 9:40 am

    Are all senators this cool?

  15. annegb on May 13, 2005 at 10:27 am

    I met with Senator Bennett when we were working on getting military investigations overhauled. He is a true gentleman and his staff was wonderful. He was very sensitive to me about my son’s suicide. I will always be grateful for that kindness.

  16. Seth Rogers on May 13, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    “Are all senators this cool?”

    I’ve met Senator Alan Simpson once and seen him speak at intimate gatherings on a couple occasions and he’s pretty cool. Probably one of the funniest speakers I’ve heard. I about died laughing at the law school banquet last year.

  17. Timotheus on May 13, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    Thank you as well, Senator Bennett. It is a pleasure to have you in the Senate, as it was a pleasure to have you in our family home on two occassions when you were first running for the Senate.

    Just by way of logging my own reaction to your thoughts. Describing ourselves as being prisoners to our own experiences seems problematic to me. I have never believed, and continue to think that regardless of our experiences, we have the ultimate power to redefine our existence at any given point by choosing differently. Not to say we can shed off our past experiences and they will cease to exist. Only to say that our past experiences need no longer have any influence on us. Of course, we want our experiences to make us better. We want to learn from them. But, we are not beholden to them. We are ultimately, and I believe fundamentally, free. Maybe I just took the word prisoner to strong. Probably. But it was an opportunity for me to think about how I see the role of past experience in our lives. Thank you again.

  18. Kevin Barney on May 13, 2005 at 8:38 pm

    I’m not very politically oriented, and I don’t live in Utah (I’m in Illinois). But this was a deeply impressive set of responses. So count me as a fan, and I’ll pay attention to your name from now on.

  19. Stephen M (Ethesis) on May 15, 2005 at 12:03 am

    BTW, whatever happened to Matt Hilton?

  20. Shawn Bailey on May 31, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    “No, I am not now, nor have I ever been, Deep Throat. How that urban legend got started, and then made it into the MSM, is another story, too long and too irrelevant to relate here.”

    Too bad Senator Bennet won’t get to address the speculation that he brought down the Nixon Administration any more!

    Go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/31/AR2005053100655.html