Is the Tea Party movement being unfair to Sen. Bennett?

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker is upset that Utah Senator Robert Bennett is likely to lose in the Republican primary. She notes, correctly, that Bennett is a conservative with an 84 percent rating from the American Conservative Union and an A ranking from the National Rifle Association.
Bennett is in trouble primarily because he voted for the TARP program. Parker thinks it’s unfair of Tea Party movement to hold this vote against him.
But for those who believe the TARP was monumentally misguided (I don’t), it makes perfect sense to turn against Senators who supported it. This is not a situation where rejecting Bennett is likely to cause a Democrat to win — Utah is too conservative for that.
Parker pretends that the TARP only looks bad in hindsight; at the time, she says, it seemed critical to prevent the economy from capsizing. “Would all those running against TARP now have voted against it had they been in Washington with the full weight of economic collapse on their shoulders,” she asks. We can’t know the answer for sure, of course, but many conservatives opposed the program at the time. Thus, Bennett is not really being second-guessed here.
Parker claims that Bennett is needed in the Senate because he has reached across the aisle to work with Democrat Ron Wyden on health care reform. But, as Parker acknowledges, he did so with a proposal that included an insurance mandate. Why should a conservative give Bennett points for this?
Parker’s answer is: “if good-faith conservative legislators such as Bennett fail to pass muster, who will be brave enough to legislate?” But legislation is not an end, it is a means to an end. For conservatives, the end is a society characterized by free markets, limited government, and individual liberty. Thus, conservatives quite rightly will tend to vote for those candidates who most consistently stand for these principles.
If I were voting it the Utah primary, I might well vote for Bennett. But unlike Parker, I don’t confuse departing from my voting preferences with irrationality or dangerous over-zealousness.

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