Sen. Bob Bennett, a note of appreciation for your work in the Senate the last 18 years.
Part of this is personal. About eight years ago, our son, Navy Lt. Christian Olsen, visited Washington representing Utah State University students to lobby for increased funding for undergraduate science research. In their visits with the Utah delegation, you were the only one who made the time to meet personally with this group, and Chris came away impressed. He remembers you as one of the most kind and gracious people he's ever met.
Considering that Chris, like his father, was a Utah State Democratic delegate that year, this praise is not insignificant. Your temperament probably didn't serve you well this year among the current crop of conservatives who prefer firebrands like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. Although he no longer lives in Utah, Chris was dismayed to hear how you were treated by the delegates of your party.
The other part is political. If Republicans had rejected you for being in Washington too long, I might have been somewhat sympathetic; term limits was one of my major issues when I ran against Rob Bishop in 2006. In my opinion, the two main issues that caused your defeat -- your work on health care reform and the rescue of the financial system -- are the very issues where you deserve the thanks of all Utahns for your courage to follow your conscience.
My wife and I are passionate about health care reform. The current system is not only unfair and immoral, it would most certainly bankrupt the nation if nothing is done. In my opinion, the Wyden-Bennett Act was the best thing out there, since it addressed what Milton Friedman called the original sin of American capitalism: the historical accident of making employers responsible for their employees' health care.
The recently passed health care reform bill, while improving access, did not fix some of the serious systemic cost problems. I hope the hard work of you and Senator Wyden will serve as a template for future reforms, which will most certainly be needed to bring down the future explosion of spending on health care.
The second issue you were punished for was even more of a puzzle: your support of President Bush and Secretary Paulson in preventing the collapse of the American financial system and avoiding a second Great Depression.
Some of the Monday-morning quarterback criticism of how this rescue was handled by the executive branch is justified. But certainly much of the criticism by some in your party makes me wonder if they slept through American history class in high school.
The causes of the severe recession of 1929-1930 has been endlessly debated, but the role of the collapse of the banking system in turning that recession into the Great Depression is surely settled history. It is amazing how some of the recent rhetoric sounds like word-for-word quotations from those ill-fated policy makers who allowed the failure of the nation's financial system eight decades ago. Despite our current economic woes, it would have been so much worse if the naysayers had been in charge.
In both cases, you showed great courage. The punishment of Chris Cannon by Republican delegates two years ago for his work on comprehensive immigration reform certainly gave you clear warning you were jeopardizing your career with your work on these two issues. But you ignored the risks and did the right thing.
As I look ahead, I am worried about the probability of Utah being ignored by Congress if Mike Lee is elected. I'm not worried by the lack of seniority; Virginia Sen. Jim Webb among others has shown that even freshman Senators can have influence. The concern is that hard core ideologues simply are ignored by both sides.
Being absolutely, robotically predictable is not a way to have the kind of influence Utah needs as a small state. Utah is best served by leaders who will be open minded and willing to compromise to find common-sense solutions for the good of all.
I think the influence of Jim Matheson, in addition to yourself, proves the truth of this maxim.
You have earned the respect of your fellow Utahns and deserve some quality time with your family. I wish you the best.
Olsen is with the Weber County Democrats.