The very best of the political old guard was a good book which could not be read by its cover.
“Ali didn’t look at life through the binary lens of Republican and Democrat, so common today,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch in 2016, delivering the eulogy for his close friend, the late great boxing legend Muhammad Ali. “He saw worthy causes, and shared humanity. In Ali’s willingness to put principles ahead of partisanship, he showed us all the path to greatness.”
Today, these immortal words might well be said about Sen. Orrin Hatch himself. Mr. Hatch, who retired from the Senate in with full honors as the longest-serving Republican Senator in history in 2019, passed away yesterday.
He was 88.
Sen. Orrin Hatch lived a life of great distinction and service to humanity. From the 19 years he served in the Utah legislature, to his 42 years in the Senate, his deep dedication to his country, constituents and community defined him.
In 1977, it was a kinder, gentler age of politics in America. In their wisdom, the good citizens of Utah selected attorney Orrin Hatch as their Senator.
Sen. Hatch went to Washington to make a difference in the lives of the people who elected him and he did such a good job, he didn’t leave office until he retired in 2019.
Hatch was one of those rare souls in Washington who came to be genuinely admired by members of both parties, and in some cases outright revered. Even members of the press seemed to have a grudging respect for the thoughtful Senator from Utah.
Even Politico, not well known for professing admiration for Republicans, called Hatch in 2016, “essentially an old school pol; he likes to look people in the eye and judge them for himself,” trusting his own north star, “more that what he reads or hears.”
“And the one-time Mormon bishop’s default position is that he must ‘love everyone,’ no matter who they are,” admitted Politico in 2016 in an article about the late Senator’s “unlikely friendship” with Muhammad Ali.
“Have you heard the one about the Mormon and the Muslim?” quipped John Bresnahan in the introduction. “Politics makes strange bedfellows, but there may be no odder couple in recent American political history than Orrin Hatch- the white, rock-ribbed conservative Utah Republican and Mormon- and Muhammad Ali, the most famous boxer ever, African-American icon and Muslim convert.”
Orrin Hatch- from his close friendship with a boxing legend to his side career as a successful Christian songwriter and musician- might have surprised the writers at Politico, had they looked a little deeper- just as Sen. Hatch often surprised those who knew him well with his depth, range, and character.
That Sen. Orrin Hatch was asked by Muhammad Ali’s widow to give the eulogy at the latter’s memorial in 2016, or the outpouring of bipartisan grief at yesterday’s passing of the stalwart lawmaker, is emblematic of his life. Hatch was a fighter himself- a former amateur boxer. Among the many causes Hatch fought for over his long career, he was a singularly righteous champion of religious liberty for all.
Sen. Hatch was a great friend to the Jewish Community, in the U.S. and worldwide, and was a strong supporter of the world’s only Jewish state, Israel.
“AJC joins the people of Utah in mourning the passing of our friend Senator Orrin Hatch,” tweeted the American Jewish Committee today. “He was a dedicated partner of the Jewish community and Israel, and a champion of protecting and promoting religious freedom. We were honored to work with him to pass vital legislation.”
“I send condolences to the family of Senator Orrin Hatch,” tweeted former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling Hatch, “a great American patriot and a friend of Israel second to none. I’m deeply grateful for his many contributions over the years to strengthening Israel and the Israeli American alliance.”
I can personally attest to the truth of these sentiments about the late Senator.
In 1998, I had the honor of traveling to Israel with Senator Hatch. He and I were two of nine people from around the world to receive a special award from Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli Knesset that year.
Sen. Hatch was someone for whom freedom of religion was paramount. The plight of persecuted religious minorities worldwide was a subject of overwhelming concern to the late Senator. On our tour- which included sites in Israel, Petra and a meeting with King Hussein of Jordan- I was able to witness firsthand the Senator’s commitment to helping others, his unfailing work ethic, his compassion for the people of every nation, and his love of America.
Hatch was a conservative’s conservative; deeply religious, a man of strong principles and values. He was also a dedicated bipartisan, a man who frequently inspired others to put petty political squabbles aside to accomplish what needed to be done- on and off Capitol Hill.
“I am deeply saddened by the news,” Sen. Cory Booker wrote of Mr. Hatch. “Senator Hatch was a friend and mentor despite us being on opposite sides of the aisle. I will cherish my memories of our time together and the wisdom he shared.”
From the opposite side of the aisle, Sen. Tom Cotton echoed Booker’s remarks: “Orrin Hatch was a great mentor and an even better friend,” Cotton tweeted. “He devoted his life to serving Utahns, and will be missed dearly. My deepest condolences to his friends and family.”
“A conservative on most economic and social issues,” wrote NPR of the late Senator, “he nonetheless teamed with Democrats several times during his long career on issues ranging from stem cell research to rights for people with disabilities to expanding children’s health insurance.”
Without Hatch, there would be no Music Modernization Act. As a recording artist himself, Sen. Hatch always was a foremost champion for creators and artists, vocally supporting their right to equitable compensation.
Intellectual property laws, at a time when too many people were signing on to Napster, were something Hatch felt weren’t moving with the times in the Information Age and he was right. The music industry is still grappling with how to compensate artists fairly from a streaming service like Spotify.
In passing the Music Modernization Act, as with so many of his other accomplishments, Hatch was well known for his bipartisan friendships, including a high-profile friendship with the Late Senator Ted Kennedy.
In 1997, the two worked together on legislation expanding Medicaid to include children whose low-income parents didn’t qualify for aid.
“He exemplified a generation of lawmakers brought up on the principles of comity and compromise,” said the Hatch Foundation in a statement, “and he embodied those principles better than anyone. In a nation divided, Orrin Hatch helped show us a better way for forging meaningful friendships on both sides of the aisle. Today, more than ever, we would do well to follow his example.”
Truer words were never spoken. Sen. Orrin Hatch- public servant, great American, patriot- has left us. He leaves behind a grieving family, a grateful nation and friends from every political party, every religious group and all walks of life.
In his wake, walking in his footsteps, may there be a new generation of lawmakers who don’t see their political opponents as enemies but rather as friends, as fellow humans deserving of love and respect, even when you don’t agree.
Especially when you don’t agree.
Anyone can be polite to someone who agrees with them. Maintaining decorum, diplomacy and grace in the face of bitter divisions over issues like abortion is the mark of a true statesman.
A master of statecraft, a bipartisan crusader for justice and peace is gone. Like all great leaders, he is leaving this nation far better for his service.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)