Could Mark Hatfield start in Oregon politics today?

Chris Lowe

Reading the long story on Mark Hatfield's public life in The Oregonian by Jeff Mapes today gave rise to the thought that Hatfield would find it difficult if not impossible to launch a political career in Oregon today with the political and policy views and practices that defined his actions.

To see that, it is important to note one fact not mentioned anywhere by Mapes: Hatfield was a staunch opponent of abortion and abortion rights.

Thus on the one hand it would be hard for Hatfield to find a place in today's narrowed Republican Party, at least as a candidate. He would be derided as a "Republican In Name Only" for his strong anti-militarist views and his willingness to support public investment in economic development and to aid people in poverty. Mapes says his slogan as governor was "parks and payrolls," which clearly for him included public payrolls as well a private sector development. But his views on abortion probably would prevent him from advancing within the Democratic Party either.

Mapes portrays both Hatfield's anti-militarism and his concerns for the poor as rooted in his religious faith as an evangelical Baptist, although his views about war were also informed by his experience as a World War II veteran who was also exposed to the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima, Japan a few months after it was dropped. That same faith was the source of his views on abortion. It is interesting to note that such faith is in fact compatible with moderate and liberal views as well as conservative ones, which those involved in the peace movement perhaps see more often than people who focus on partisan politics these days.

A sidebar in the print edition of The Oregonian shows Hatfield's fellow Republican senator, Bob Packwood, and his successor Gordon Smith both praising him, along with the current sitting Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. Wyden and Merkley both characterize Hatfield as "bipartisan." While this is understandable in terms of today's ideological polarization (within a very narrow range globally) of the parties, in which Hatfield's views would not fit comfortably in either party, it also reflects the narrowing of political thinking in our day. Hatfield was a partisan. He endorsed Richard Nixon, even though he worked with George McGovern on anti-war resolutions.

There is a case to be made that it was the politics of abortion that polarized the parties in Oregon so that Hatfield today would have trouble finding a comfortable partisan home, though probably there are other ways to tell the story too.

When I was a college student at Reed in the years on either side of 1980, statewide political offices were dominated by more or less moderate Republicans whom today's conservative ideologues would see as RINOs. Bob Packwood in a way inverted Hatfield's commitments, being a key pro-choice leader in the Senate while supporting Ronald Reagan's military expansion, illustrating that "moderate" could mean many things, while Vic Atiyeh was governor and Norma Paulus was secretary of state. The rise of the Oregon Citizens' Alliance, which initially focused on anti-abortion politics before switching over to targeting lesbian and gay people, took place not only in the form of the OCA's signature initiative campaigns, but also provided the spearhead for the takeover of Republican internal politics by a new generation of sharp ideological conservatives. Meanwhile on the Democratic side what Hatfield would have seen as a "consistent life ethic" combining anti-militarism with anti=abortion views has likewise become difficult if not toxic for office seekers. (I say this as a strong advocate for abortion rights and women's control of their own bodies, and also as a strong anti-militarist, reflecting on the complexities of relating to Mark Hatfield over the years.)

It seems fitting to note that Saturday August 6 was the 66th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and that tomorrow, August 9, is the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. I believe that Mark Hatfield would want us to remember him, the good he tried to do according to the lights of his moral and ethical ideas, and his legacy -- and that he also would want us to remember those who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to use the coincidence of his passing with anniversary of those events to rededicate ourselves to pursuing the peace and nuclear disarmament that were so important to him.

  • (Show?)

    You are right on. However, Hatfield didn't push his anti-abortion views really hard either. But what makes him so well liked is that he was the Republican that Democrats could support. Most of the accolades coming out today are from Dems. My guess is that if he started out today he would be a Democrat that minimized his abortion position and he could get elected because he would say it was an individual choice not something he would force as a matter of law.

  • (Show?)

    The reality is that it's very difficult to pull a candidate out of the past and ask where they would fit in the current political environment. Hatfield's career spanned a period when politics were different--and his record reflects that difference.

    For me, Hatfield's legacy is that he embodied the best of the politics of his day. To transport him into the present environment, I would expect his politics to reflect the current GOP's views. But where he would stand out is in disavowing this current streak of fanaticism that is animated by spite more than public service. As the GOP became a more vicious and ugly party, it no doubt pained him. (Can you imagine Hatfield calling the president a socialist or signing on with the birthers?) His views would have evolved, but I'd like to think that his conviction in the capacity of Americans to work together for the good of the country would be as strong as ever.

    • (Show?)

      There is evidence to support the anti-fanaticism piece of this interpretation in Jeff Mapes' piece, which describes Hatfield calling out the John Birch Society at the 1964 GOP convention that nominated Barry Goldwater ("extremism in defense of liberty is no vice"). According to Mapes Hatfield was booed. I am less sure about "reflecting the current GOP's views." Part about Hatfield's views was that they weren't all "moderate." His anti-war stance was among the strongest ever held by a U.S. senator after World War II. His abortion views while not a signature element in the same way were consistently conservative. His views on fiscal policy were genuinely conservative i.e. not military Keynesian like Reagan's and not irresponsible fiscal ratcheting like Grover Norquist, but anti-deficit, while willing to see government play a role in ensuring a decent society. At one stage a GOP that could have Strom Thurmond and (anti-Civil Rights Act) Barry Goldwater along with Nelson Rockefeller, Jacob Javits, & Lowell Weicker co-existed with a DP that had lots of conservative segregationists co-existing with Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. As the GOP shifted, Hatfield didn't in some key respects. His vote against the Balanced Budget Amendment in the 1990s is the strongest evidence on that point, imo.

  • (Show?)

    To answer the question in your title: Yes. He'd be a Democrat.

  • (Show?)


    You did a very fine job of analyzing the Senator then, and in the context of today.

    With gratitude directly from the President, a Navy honor Guard, and I-84 blocked off with police standing at attention and bystanders getting out of their cars and saluting on ever off ramp we passed, my family buried one of the greatest Oregonians to ever live, and I will tell you as I knew him, he was a man of principles and conviction, and always followed them in service to his Country.

    .......and Logan, my family, all of us, would disagree with you down to the man that today he would be a Democrat, but that's not really here nor there.

    He was of the Party of Lincoln.

    He told me on many levels he was a libertarian, but he believed in core Republicanism, as he handed me a Constitution, and told me to carry it always, and defend all people's right to be free and even to disagree.

    I believe he would of done today, exactly as he did his entire life......he would of drawn from his life's experience, found strength in his faith, lived up to his word, and followed his convictions and principles, even when they went against the grain of his Party's orthodoxy or popular opinion.

    He did not take a poll to know the way the wind blows. He knew what he believed.

    The challenges that face our Nation, are always unique to the times we live in.......

    Maybe we should all just be grateful of the example he set, and not be worried so much as to what he'd be, but honor who he was, as it appears he transcended those labels of today.

    He was one heck of an American.

    We were all blessed that he lived, and served us and the Country he loved so well.

    This article asked the question, and did a good job of rising above the answer, and I want to again thank you, Chris.....

    From the Hatfield/Kuzmanich Family

  • (Show?)

    At the age of 15, my Father, after a very harrowing childhood, fled Communist Yugoslavia in 1956 as his Father, my Grandfather, gave his son up to America for the opportunity of a better life. He came to Portland to live with his Uncle and Aunt, Visco and Josephine Kuzmanich. Antoinette is their Daughter, my Father's 1st Cousin, and my 2nd cousin. They became his surogate family here in America, and my Dad and Antoinette grew up for all practical purposes as brother and sister. We are all very close. I've known the Senator my entire life. He consulted me, and gave me sage words of advice long before I ran for U.S. Congress, and he was at as many political events on my behalf as his health permitted, as was Mrs. Hatfield. Senator Hatfield's Father-in-Law was the Patiarch/Head of my entire family.

connect with blueoregon