Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 726

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 726


This is the grave of Mark Hatfield.

Born in 1922 in Dallas, Oregon, Hatfield’s father was a blue collar guy, a railroad worker. But his mother had higher aspirations. After he was born, she went to college to become a teacher and succeeded, creating a career for herself at a time when this was somewhat unusual, at least to begin it after she was married. The family was a strong Republican household and Hatfield, at the age of 10, actively campaigned for Herbert Hoover among the family’s neighbors. He became a tour guide in the state capitol building in Salem by the late 30s, where he would sit in the governor’s chair and imagine himself in power. He also killed a woman by running her over soon after he learned to drive. But this did not get in the way of his future political career.

Hatfield went to Willamette University, which is Oregon’s school for aspiring politicians. It is literally across the street from the capitol building and there’s a long tradition of Willamette graduates going into state politics. From the time he started there, he planned his political career and worked closely with Republican officials in Salem, learning whatever he could. He graduated in 1943 and then joined the Navy, where he was a lieutenant on landing craft at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, meaning he saw real action. He was also one of the first Americans to enter Hiroshima after the surrender of Japan, so he saw the full impact of the atomic bomb. He was then sent to Indochina, where he experienced the French reestablishing colonial control over the Vietnamese. All of this would have a significant impact on his foreign policy later in his career.

Upon returning from war, Hatfield went to Stanford for a master’s degree in political science. He then returned to Oregon where he taught the subject at Willamette and continued to plan his political career. That began for real in 1950, when he won a seat in the Oregon legislature, making him the youngest person in the statehouse. He became a strong and early Oregon supporter for Eisenhower in 1952, which garnered him a position as delegate to the RNC. After a Paul Robeson show, Hatfield discovered that Salem was a Jim Crow city when he had to personally drive Robeson back to Portland so he could sleep in a hotel. Based on that, he introduced desegregation legislation in Oregon in 1953 and that legislation at least passed the House, though I am not sure if it passed the Senate.

Hatfield then ran for governor in 1958. Despite his past of killing that woman, which Wayne Morse dropped toward the end of the election to try and tip the race to the Democrat, Hatfield won and then was reelected in 1962. He gave the keynote at the 1964 RNC, which was somewhat ironic and he was very much not a Goldwater type and used the occasion to pitch moderation. Well, in some ways Hatfield was a moderate and in other ways he very much was not, but he certainly was at the beginning of a losing battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Still, he was a big time Republican by this point with legitimate national aspirations. In 1966, he won election to the Senate to replace Maurine Neuberger, herself in the Senate because her husband Dick (a pioneering environmentalist in the Senate) had died a few years earlier and she was appointed to finish his term. Hatfield became well-known for voting against a governor’s resolution to support the Vietnam War. Being Oregon, this did not hurt him and he won election.

Today, Hatfield is primarily remembered for his progressive foreign policy and general moderation as a Republican senator. To some extent, this is deserved, but the story of Hatfield is also the story of which issues have been prioritized among liberals since the late 1960s. He was a fascinating guy generally; a strong Baptist who was so close to Billy Graham that the preacher lobbied Nixon to pick him as his VP candidate in 1968 and yet also someone who opposed mandatory school prayer and who as governor had commuted several death penalty sentences despite being publicly in favor of the death penalty.

This general moderation despite having personally very conservative beliefs was Hatfield’s hallmark. He continued opposing the Vietnam War, infuriating Nixon. In 1970, he cosponsored with George McGovern the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment to cut off funding for the war. He was very good on Watergate, threatening the funding for the White House Legal Office, though this more revenge for Nixon not properly funding Hatfield’s dam building program than it was principle. He was good on civil rights, voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and in favor of creating the Martin Luther King holiday, which of course Reagan only signed with extreme reluctance. He was of only four senators to vote against Reagan’s MX Missile program. He also sponsored nuclear freeze legislation with Ted Kennedy. He opposed the embargo on Cuba and consistently voted to end it. He also voted against the Gulf War in 1991. This is all quite principled. It made Hatfield one of the most respected people in the Senate and an iconic politician in Oregon that appealed to the state’s moderate self-image that doesn’t really exist today but which really defined the whole Northwest in the 1970s and 1980s.

This is mostly what we remember about Hatfield these days. And that’s fine. But Hatfield was the biggest hack in history on economic and environmental issues. This man was 100% completely in the pocket of the timber industry and was basically just as bad for the mining and ranching industries. He did everything he could to undermine the environmentalism that was gaining momentum in the region during his tenure. He was the bete noire of the environmental movement through these years. As comparison, Bob Packwood was Oregon’s other moderate Republican senator, but Packwood was really far to the left of Hatfield on many issues, especially abortion and environmentalism. Packwood was not as great a leader on foreign policy issues, but that really just wasn’t his bailiwick. He may have been a creep, but that’s a different issue. Liberal communities in the Northwest were far more comfortable working with Packwood than Hatfield. Moreover, we generally remember Scoop Jackson today as the worst Democrat ever because of defense and foreign policy issues, largely in contrast to Hatfield. But Jackson was actually a largely excellent senator on environmental issues. Because our political memory of recent decades is so dominated by the Vietnam War, we have these pretty warped (or perhaps limited is a better word) memories of both Hatfield and Jackson.

Hatfield was effectively a libertarian on economic and legal issues. He called himself a libertarian and he voted that way. He was perfectly fine with Robert Bork being on the Supreme Court for instance. His was far right enough in a changing state that he very near lost his reelection fight in 1990 against a fairly blah businessman named Harry Lonsdale. The main issue was that Hatfield was such a timber industry hack at this point in an increasingly liberal state where in the urban centers, environmentalism was a political winner, if that was very much not the case in the state’s struggling rural centers. Hatfield did win 53-46 after being down in polling for much of the race.

Hatfield continued his moderate positions in his last term, including voting against the Balanced Budget Amendment, the only Republican to do so. He was also a huge pork politician, bringing home a ton of money to promote the state’s universities, scientific endeavors, and especially industry, including both older industries such as timber and newer industries such as tech, which he had promoted going back to his time as governor when that was just getting underway.

Hatfield retired after 1996, having never lost an election in his life. He taught at George Fox University in retirement, as well as the occasional course at Portland State, Willamette, and Lewis & Clark. He also served on the board for the Oregon Health and Sciences University beginning in 2000. By the late 2000s, his health began to decline. He died in 2011, at the age of 89.

Mark Hatfield is buried in Willamette National Cemetery, Portland, Oregon.

If you would like this series to visit other senators elected in 1966, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Robert Griffin is in Grand Traverse County, Michigan and the vile James Eastland is in Forest, Mississippi. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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