No one should ever accuse Utah's senior U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, in office 34 years, of not being a hard worker. But lately, Hatch seems to be expending much of his soon-to-be 77-year-old body and intellect toward a desperate effort to convince a small portion of Utah Republicans that he is Tea Party-approved.
As a result, the distinguished-looking senator is beginning to look very unserious. He's reversed a longstanding tradition of being a conservative statesman with the political skills to work with Democrats to reach compromise. Common-sense positions Hatch once espoused on issues such as immigration and health care reform have been ditched for from-the-larnyx "no's" to stances from the administration. Attempts at compromise that come from the administration are often greeted with derision by Hatch.
Sometimes, the senator sounds more like a "Baghdad Bob"-type shill than a member of the U.S. Senate. He jumped the shark earlier this week when he let loose with a profanity at Utah State University when describing President Barack Obama's health care reform law. You can watch the video here It was embarrassing to watch Hatch use such desperate efforts.
The senator's desperation is due to Utah's nominating procedure, which allows state delegates to winnow candidates down to one or two during convention. The delegates tend to be quite a bit more conservative than the mainstream. Hatch's past efforts at bipartisanship have soured his popularity with many delegates. The senator, mindful that his former colleague, the respected conservative Robert Bennett, was swapped at convention for Tea Party idealogue Mike Lee, is trying to drink the Utah tea as hot and fast as he can.
It's sad to witness, more so because it can be successful. Hatch's Arizona colleague, Sen. John McCain, fended off a Tea Party challenge last year by abandoning many of his past, more moderate positions. One of McCain's more shameful shifts was on immigration, where he repudiated his past support for comprehensive reform. McCain is still a senator, but it has cost him a lot of respect. We would hate to see Hatch swap his dignity for a mere six more years in Washington, D.C.
If the senator wants to spend 42 years in Congress, he should do it without ditching his talents of reason to appease extremists. We'd prefer to see him not run for re-election if that's the case. Perhaps without the monicker of U.S. senator, Hatch could do even more good in the years ahead.