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Mark Hatfield

Mark Hatfield

You hear it still, often, in conversations in Oregon about politics, by a wide range of people: What’s needed is more sensible people like a Mark Hatfield. What the Republican Party needs, many people say (Tea Partiers would not), is more Hatfield Republicans.

There will be many such thoughts expressed in the next day or two, after the Hatfield’s passing today, at 89. Those kinds of comments necessarily obscure some things but clarify others.

He was a politician, and for all the broad approval of him in later years, the approval was not always universal. People often speak of “Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield Republicans,” as though the two of them were terrific friends and allies who always thought alike; in fact they disagreed about many issues, their styles were very different and they evidently didn’t much like each other – in fact, their political clashes could be fierce. (Their relationships with their fellow moderate Republican contemporary, Robert Packwood, was apparently about the same.)

His success came very early in life, running through the state legislature to secretary of state and governor and then senator (no one since in Oregon has held both of those last two offices), holding the Senate seat through five terms. His power in the Senate (as chair of appropriations, which goes a long way to explain many of Oregon’s major transit and other projects) came later, but he was a national figure almost from the beginning. In 1968, Hatfield was on the short list when Richard Nixon was considering his vice presidential options. What did Nixon see in Hatfield? Something that gave him pause? (Hatfield was already known by then as dove on Vietnam.)

But there was also this: How different might a Nixon Administration have been if Hatfield had been there to play a significant role in it?

Certainly, Hatfield’s style of Republican politics was a lot different from that of today. The back cover of Against the Grain, Reflections of a Rebel Republican, a 2001 memoir, says it “details his opposition to the Vietnam War, successful drafting of the Soviet-American nuclear freeze legislation with Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy, and his strong stands of conscience on health reform, the death penalty, and the balanced budget amendment that typically ran counter to the Republican mainstream.”

Well, yes. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. And we haven’t been electing a lot of them, either.

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