Saturday, August 29, 2009

Hatch on Kennedy

I won't be coy here; I have often found it hard to love Orrin Hatch. It's not just a matter of substance; it's the buttoned-up, oily, smarmy and snide manner (did I miss anything important here?). But I'll have to forgive him a lot for the eulogy he delivered at the Ted Kennedy funeral. It was gracious; it was generous; it was kind; and it sounded entirely heartfelt. You got the sense that they really were great friends--and, what is perhaps less obvious but more important, that they knew how to be friends, however much politics may have divided them. I think I'd be a better man if I could treat my enemies with such courtesy and respect.

We all--well, a good many of us--regret the increasing bellicosity of politics of late and harken back, inter alia, to the time when the Senate was more of a gentlemen's club (sic, was it because, aside from Margaret Chase Smith, there were essentially no ladies?). The gentlemen's club is probably a mixed blessing: one's mind is not always put at ease by the thought of Lyndon Johnson chumming up with the likes of Richard Russell and Robert Kerr. I suppose I've quoted somewhere before the old French adage that there is more difference between two socialists, one of whom is a deputy and the other of whom is not, than there is between two deputies, one of whom is a socialist and the other is not. But civility has its claims.

I suppose part of what was going on here is that both Kennedy and Hatch, by reputation at lest, were hard workers. And heaven knows the job of a Senator, properly understood, can be very hard work: slow boring of hard boards, in Max Weber's imperishable phrase. If you are willing to do the work, you probably come to understand and respect those who work as hard as you do--I think it was Michael Barone who coined the distinction between "show horses" and "work horses." Barry Goldwater was a show horse in the Senate; come to think of it, so was Jack Kennedy. It appears that Teddy and Orrin were both workhorses and came to appreciate each other for it.

I never thought I'd hear myself say it: we need more Senators like Orrin Hatch. But then, we could use a few more like Ted Kennedy.

Afterthought: My friend Michael, who was at one time a Washington insider, liked to tell an anecdote about Kennedy as workhorse. The mantra here is "the bag is closing!" Evidently Kennedy carried a big thick work-bag, which he took home every night. If your briefing paper made it into the bag by closing time, then you could be confident that the Senator would have read the paper by the next morning. One delights in the picture of Teddy in his wet tee-shirt, drinking, womanizing and generally misbehaving, all the time with one hand on a briefing paper, fondling the bag.

No comments: