Orrin Hatch can’t pass in the corner, ignored by the network news and overlooked by a busy nation.
He was a great man of faith and patriotism, a servant of his God and his fellow man, an elected leader who made and kept an oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.
He was, in his day and place, one of his nation’s most consequential men.
And the story of his life, from the humblest of roots to the pinnacle of power, is an inspiring and quintessentially American reminder of what a free person can do in a free country.
Further, Orrin Hatch was for four decades in the United States Senate the face of his particular faith and an enabler of the faith of so many others. He was everyone’s Mormon friend and a passionate defender of religious freedom for all Americans.
He was the longest-serving Republican ever to be sworn into the Senate, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a confidante of seven presidents and a confirmer of 10 Supreme Court justices, and a man who enabled the best instincts of both Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump.
He believed in a smaller government and a freer people, and that America’s strength came from its values. He had faith in God and he wasn’t afraid to say so, out loud and often. He knew the Senate and its rules, and he used them masterfully to advance the causes he supported and thwart the ones he opposed. He passed a near-record amount of legislation, and stopped dead in their tracks proposals he thought harmful to the nation and its people.
And he did it all with a modest strength that combined humility and confidence in a way that belied his incredible power over decades and millions. He was a man who could love intensely colleagues whose positions he opposed relentlessly. Teddy Kennedy was his moral and temperamental opposite, and his best friend, and at that senator’s funeral it was a child of poverty who truly understood and communicated the heart of a son of wealth.
Orrin Hatch used the federalist power given to senators of even the smallest states to turn his overwhelming support among Utahns into a fulcrum with which to move the nation, to the right and to its roots. He was the conscience of the Congress and of the country, a man who was righteous without being preachy or sanctimonious.
And to members of his faith – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – he was their most prominent political representative since Reed Smoot, a Mormon apostle initially denied a seat in the Senate because of his religion. But such was the social-norming impact of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, church President David O. McKay, the Osmonds and ultimately Orrin Hatch himself, that for most of his tenure, Orrin Hatch’s religion, though different from most Americans, came to represent most Americans, if not in theology then in pious feel.
America knew Orrin Hatch was a good man.
And, except for those obsessed by political opposition, including many in the press, he was embraced as a good man, and listened to like a wise man. He gave fiery talks, but not very often and not very well, what he mostly did was speak common sense, with a little bit of righteous indignation thrown in when conscience and occasion required. At his most exasperated, he let loose with a passionate, “gee whiz.”
I admired Orrin Hatch. I believe in what he believed in. I was inspired religiously and politically by his example. When I found it necessary to criticize him on the radio, I always hoped that his sister wasn’t listening and relaying my objections. But she always was and she always did, and when he and I would have contact he would politely let me know, and playfully promise to do better next time.
The last time I saw Orrin Hatch was at the funeral of W. Cleon Skousen, whose early conservative endorsement proved helpful in Orrin Hatch’s political rise. The chapel and cultural hall were packed with mourners, including high church officials, come to honor a writer and thinker who was often the voice of conservative political Mormonism. His remarks were humorous, loving and strong.
Like those he would share three years later when Teddy Kennedy died.
Orrin Hatch was at home in both places, and in fellowship and brotherhood in both places, among the most conservative and most liberal of Americans. Not because he was a chameleon, but because he was a man who loved both his principles and his opponents.
Whoever you were, you were Orrin Hatch’s friend, and you knew it.
And with his passing, America has lost a good friend and rare example, a man worthy of being remembered by all.