Mark O. Hatfield, RIP


Mark Hatfield, Oregon's Republican governor from 1959 to 1967 and then senator from 1967 to 1997, has died at age 89. In World War II, he had been among the troops who entered Hiroshima after the bomb fell. That scarring experience, along with his deep Christian faith, made Hatfield the most pacifist presence in the Senate in the second half of the 20th century. He opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Central America, the Persian Gulf, and the Balkans, he joined forces with Ted Kennedy to push for a nuclear freeze, and he never voted for a single military appropriations bill. So strong was Hatfield's interest in nonviolence that in the early '70s he flirted with rejecting the institutionalized violence of the state, reading one of the anarchist economist Murray Rothbard's articles into the Congressional Record and writing (or at least signing) a glowing review of Rothbard's Power and Market that appeared in The Individualist—probably the only time a sitting senator has endorsed an anarcho-capitalist treatise. Rothbard was initially excited about Hatfield too, writing a rapturous endorsement in 1970 when buzz started to spread that Hatfield might run for president.

It isn't hard to find cases where the senator backed economic interventions—he was a strong supporter of subsidies to medical research, for example—so it soon became clear that his libertarian streak was not going to manifest itself with a Ron Paul–style voting record. But while Hatfield's dalliance with Rothbardianism faded, he did regularly introduce a bill he called the Neighborhood Government Act, which would have allowed Americans to divert their federal taxes from Washington to their local community. His long-term goal, he explained to the Eugene Register-Guard in 1973, was to shift all social services to the neighborhood level. The idea was embraced by many New Leftists (in those days when decentralism was a strong current on the left) and libertarians (in 1982, Karl Hess told Reason that the bill was one of "two and only two" legislative changes he would actively support, along with the end of the withholding tax). Naturally it went nowhere.

It isn't surprising that a politician's interest in libertarianism would come to an end. What's unexpected is that Hatfield would one day reject his pacifism too. In 2004, the aging ex-senator put his name on an article for the Oregonian endorsing the Iraq war. If he made any follow-up statements, they have escaped my attention; he may well have remained an Iraq hawk for the remainder of his life. Not the normal coda to a pacifist's political career; but then, this was never a normal political career in the first place.