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Brief Thoughts on Mark Hatfield


As Erik notes, Mark Hatfield has passed.  He was, from our current point of view, a remarkably odd political figure. I remember this quite well:

Senator Mark O. Hatfield of Oregon, the only Republican to vote against the balanced-budget amendment when it fell one vote short of passing the Senate last week, offered to resign before the vote, the majority leader, Bob Dole, said today.

Mr. Dole said he had turned that offer down. But today, he did not rule out punishing Mr. Hatfield for his vote by taking away his committee chairmanship in the Senate.

Mr. Hatfield’s resignation from the Senate would have allowed the proposed constitutional amendment, which would have required a balanced Federal budget, to pass the Senate with the needed majority of two-thirds of those voting.

This was in the prelude to Dole’s final run for the Presidency, when he tossed aside a career long commitment to relatively responsible budgeting in order to appeal to the growing wingnut lobby in the GOP. It’s fascinating both that Hatfield offered to resign over what likely would have been a meaningless vote, and that Dole refused. Today, Hatfield would undoubtedly be subjected to a Tea Party driven primary challenge, and Dole would have come under brutal attack from the right for not accepting the resignation.

Hatfield’s role in national GOP politics is also remarkably interesting. He gave what amounted to an anti-Goldwater keynote at the 1964 Republican convention, and was taken seriously as a vice presidential candidate in 1968. Nixon obviously had sensible reasons for taking Agnew, but Hatfield would have made a very interesting choice. The presence of a strong anti-war voice within the Nixon campaign and the Nixon administration might not have changed policy much- Nixon kept fairly tight control of the foreign policy reins- but it would have been rhetorically interesting. Hatfield might well not have stayed for a second term, but of course if he had…

Hatfield’s position as a Northwest politician is also worth examining. Hatfield was a moderate/liberal Republican at a time and in a place where such creatures still existed. I’d say that the last of the species in Oregon was probably Dave Frohnmayer, who lost the 1990 gubernatorial race because of a right wing, anti-abortion third party spoiler. Cecil Andrus of Idaho argued that Northwest politics was characterized during the 1970s by collaboration between moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans, and he cited Hatfield, Bob Packwood, and Tom McCall as the major figures on the GOP side. It’s important to remember that while Hatfield was staking out a strong anti-war position in Oregon (along with Democrat Wayne Morse), Scoop Jackson and Warren Magnuson were prying open the spigot to flow military dollars into Washington. Of course, because Hatfield was right about the Vietnam War and Jackson wrong, Jackson has a school of international studies and a nuclear submarine named in his honor.

The anti-war aspect of Hatfield’s career also bears some examination.  He opposed the Vietnam War before it was popular to do so, and not quietly. He didn’t particularly like either defense spending or anti-communism, and supported ending the travel ban to Cuba.  He also voted against authorizing the Gulf War.  In Oregon at the time, it was said that he was one of the only genuinely consistent “pro lifers”; he opposed the death penalty, abortion, and war.  Of course, it’s kind of hard to square this career opposition to war with Hatfield’s late life support of the invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror more generally, especially because there was no meaningful institutional reason for Hatfield to shift.  “He just got old,” is one explanation, but not a particularly helpful one.

In any case, Mark Hatfield had a remarkably long and interesting career as a public servant, one that could probably bear considerably more attention. Rest in peace.

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