I remember when Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Tea Party Snugglebunny for Utah's 1st Congressional District, was a sensible gentleman. He was good-humored and easy to like.
He would come to meet with the Standard-Examiner's editorial board, cheerfully guzzling Dr. Pepper and grinning out from under that disgustingly full, age-defying head of white hair. His responses to our questions could be professorial, which we forgave because he was a retired schoolteacher. He would explain his proto-conservative positions with a confidence born of being Republican in a bulletproof-conservative district -- and in a way that made you believe you could probably pass whatever civics quiz he was about to yank from his vest pocket.
Those were the days: post-Clinton, George W. Bush-era America. Most of Bishop's righter-wing stances were indistinguishable from his predecessor's, retired Rep. Jim Hansen. You remember Hansen? He's the guy who wanted the Giant Farmington Cemetery Tombstone because the normal-size grave marker just wouldn't be large enough to list All His Amazing Accomplishments.
Anyway, like Hansen, who was elected to the seat 11 times -- a fact not lost on Rob -- Bishop was apt to give full-on bear hugs and saliva-dripping kisses to legislation involving gun love, anything military and whatever amounted to a fork in the eye of the environmental movement.
In other words, he was standard-issue Utah GOP.
But sometime between then and now, Bishop's begun to ape the more strident talking points of the Republican Party's outer limits. After Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Something Resembling a Moderate Republican, got his own keister handed to him via the end of a rusty harpoon at the 2010 GOP State Convention -- precluding even a shot at a primary election -- Bishop and his fellow conservatives hurriedly converted to the Tea Party religion.
Their doctrine: no more compromises with the socialists formerly known as Democrats, moderates and Rockefeller Republicans.
But it turns out, not surprisingly, this philosophy of governance gets nothing done. Well, nothing aside from name-calling and spraying ever more napalm on the already giant flames of talk radio, FOX News and MSNBC.
It's ironic that the people who were elected because some voters objected to the way government was being run and demanded change are now the instrument of government not running at all. They have wrought change, all right, but we don't define stalemate as achievement. It's an even worse philosophy of leadership than running deficits to the moon and back.
In fairness to Bishop, I've used him as one example of galloping toward the political fringe. He's certainly not the worst offender -- that would be Utah's Sen. Mike Lee -- but Bishop is our offender. So he takes the slap to the cheek.
Within weeks of the Tea Party's 2010 electoral triumph, I borrowed David McCullough's "John Adams" from my father and read it cover to cover. It's one of those books that should be read -- if not for your own edification, then as a bulwark against those who would attack you for ignorance on the subject of the American Revolution. Plus, its physical heft makes for a fine doorstop.
While I was reading the brick-like tome, worrying that life was slipping away and I would have that much less time to catch up on old TV series via Netflix streaming, it occurred to me that a long-ago mentor in my journalism days had it right: "We need more statesmen," he was fond of saying, "and fewer politicians."
I look around today and can see no statesmen or women. The notion of the greater good has been surrendered to winning and, more importantly, destroying the opposition. John Adams would be disappointed. Rob Bishop should be, too.
Email Don Porter at email@example.com.