Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Before we get to that tonight, though, yesterday brought news of the passing of former Oregon governor and senator Mark Hatfield (see obits and rememberances here, here, and here). Hatfield, who retired from the Senate after 30 years of service in 1996, was someone who would, unfortunately, be completely unrecognizable in today's Congress. Today we find ourselves in an era when every Republican Senator ranks ideologically to the right of every Democratic Senator. Hatfield was interesting in that although he was a "liberal Republican," his positions didn't necessarily fall in line with what we've come to understand that label to mean. Yes, he was more socially liberal, but he was also staunchly pro-life. Heavily steeped in his Baptist upbringing, his pro-life stance though (counter to what we see today) extended to opposition to the death penalty--an issue he grappled with as Oregon's governor--and most importantly the use of the U.S. military. Serving in the Navy during WWII, Hatfield saw first hand the devastation of Hiroshima. Upon election to the Senate he became an outspoken critic of the war in Vietnam and throughout his career was a reliable vote against authorizing the use of force, including the Persian Gulf War.
Hatfield's tenure in Congress is also of note in that he embodied the old style independent committee chairman. He was the top Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, both during the Republican majorities of 1981-1987 and 1995-6. Staunchly protective of his prerogatives as chief appropriator, he famously defended his turf against an intra-party uprising brought about by his refusal to support a Balanced Budget Amendment. It was his vote that sent the measure down to defeat.
While it's easy to become overly nostalgic when thinking about politicians and Congresses long gone, there can be little doubt that our political system would be better off if there were more people like Senator Hatfield still around.