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Dear Orrin

'Hypocrisy, thy name is Orrin'

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"Who's the head bull-goose loony around here?" 
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


I read that Brigham Young University
and the University of Utah are vying to become the repository of Orrin Hatch's congressional papers—3,000 boxes in all. I don't care which school prevails. I am just pleased that my letters to Hatch will be archived so future scholars can read them as they try to figure out what went haywire with the U.S. government in the early 21st Century.

My letters were reasoned and reasonable, if I do say so myself. None was a hair-on-fire diatribe. (OK, I did take liberties with Hamlet in an email that read: "Hypocrisy, thy name is Orrin.") I usually prefaced my letters with praise for Hatch's collaboration with Ted Kennedy that yielded the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Serve America Act and the Children's Health Insurance Program. One of my letters implored Hatch to support modest gun-control measures after 20 six- and seven-year-old kids were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Another letter sought his support for granting Judge Merrick Garland the up-or-down vote that fairness, if not the Constitution, required. Another was critical of his position on the development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. I appealed to him in 2013 when showboaters Mike Lee and Ted Cruz shut down the federal government for 16 days.

My letters and emails brought bland, staff-written responses. I was never able to persuade the senator that I was right and he was wrong. On one occasion, Hatch left me too aghast to write. He stood in the Rose Garden in December and called Donald Trump "one of the best presidents I have served under." (This from a guy who called then-Mayor Rocky Anderson a nutcake for organizing an anti-Bush demonstration in downtown Salt Lake City.) More on that presently.

The Orrin G. Hatch Foundation is up and running. According to its website, the foundation will build a public-policy institute to serve as a "world-class repository of modern American legislative history." Hatch, the longest-serving Republican senator at age 83, is a historical figure of sorts. He moved to Washington in 1977, the same year Jimmy Carter settled into the White House. Hatch had a front-row seat to the Reagan presidency when Democrat Tip O'Neill was speaker of the House. The give-and-take relationship of those two Irish pols is the stuff of legend. O'Neill's son explicated it on The New York Times op-ed page: "No, my father and Reagan weren't close friends," he wrote. "Famously, after 6 p.m. on quite a few work days, they would sit down for drinks at the White House. But it wasn't the drinks or the conversation that allowed American government to work. Instead, it was a stubborn refusal not to allow fundraisers, activists, party platforms or ideological chasms to stand between them and actions—tempered and improved by compromise—that kept this country moving."

It's been almost 30 years since the Reagan era ended, and polls show that 70 percent of Americans believe the country now is moving in the wrong direction. Like a sailboat tacking into a headwind, we veer from one crisis to another with no welcoming port on the horizon, no one at the helm able to navigate the shoals.

The Hatch Foundation website touts the senator's "legislative leadership" and "unparalleled legislative legacy" spanning 40-plus years. More than 750 bills have the Hatch imprimatur. He deserves credit, to be sure. On the other hand, as he claims credit for good work, he has to take some responsibility for the problems in Washington. The descent into dysfunction happened on his watch. He may not have been the head bull-goose loony, but he retires as Senate president pro tempore, third in line to the Oval Office. In short, he knows how things got broke and what it will take to fix them. What an opportunity for the Hatch Foundation!

In the days of O'Neill and Reagan, one of the few areas of agreement between the two adversaries was "America first and party second," O'Neill said. Those days are gone despite Trump's sloganeering. Career politicians like Hatch are focused on winning the next election. That means relentless fundraising, but re-election also means an unblemished record of fidelity to the party. (The Hatch-Kennedy collaboration would have cost Hatch in the state convention, just like Bob Bennett.) Finally comes America—not first but a distant third. (Case in point: four months into the fiscal year, the federal government has no budget.) America's standing in the world—its moral authority, its leadership—is undermined by a loony administration on a daily basis.

Trump is already gearing up his re-election campaign. He uses "America First" as a sop to a right-wing base—25 percent of the population and shrinking. That his divisive and immoral antics are shrugged off by such upright leaders as Orrin Hatch, Franklin Graham, Mike Pence, Paul Ryan—even ascendant bull-goose loony Rep. Chris Stewart—can only be explained by a "Party First" mindset. In Stewart's estimation, Trump has morphed from a Mussolini "who does not represent Republican ideals" to a Rodney Dangerfield who gets no respect for "an incredibly effective first year."

These probably will be my final words to Hatch. So thank you, senator, for all the good you have done, especially as Kennedy's partner. I hope your new foundation reclaims "America First" from the head bull-goose loony. Closing the ideological chasm that has developed since the days of Reagan and O'Neill is imperative. Your leadership could make a difference. I hope you will take up the challenge.

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