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Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Why I Support Senator Orrin Hatch (Part Three)

An out-of-state group called FreedomWorks has led the effort to defeat Senator Orrin Hatch. Much of what they say about Hatch's voting record is false or deceptive. I assume FreedomWorks understands this, though I doubt the same could generally be said of the Utahans they've rallied to their cause.

(Here are Part One and Part Two of this series.)

Mining the Opponent's Record

I've managed or staffed political campaigns in New York, Idaho, and Utah. In cases where there's a good record kept of an incumbent's votes, such as congressional or state legislative campaigns, studying the opponent's voting record is an important and often fruitful activity. The earlier in the campaign you do it, the better.

How you do it matters. It tells us a lot about you (the campaign staffer), your candidate, and the campaign.

There are two basic approaches to an opponent's legislative record. It might help to see them as the two extremes of a single spectrum. A candidate's campaign may position itself anywhere in the spectrum, at either extreme or somewhere in between. For this discussion, I'll call one extreme conscientious and the other cynical. There is a value judgment in this choice of terms, but it's a value judgment I'm promoting.

Even for those of us who try to stay at the conscientious extreme, in the heat of a campaign there's a great temptation to slip toward the cynical. Conversely, sometimes people who are perfectly willing to set up shop at the cynical extreme don't have to, because the opponent gives them plenty to work with even if they remain conscientious.

Cynical and Conscientious

The cynical approach is to mine the opponent's voting record for anything that can be spun or distorted to cast the opponent in a negative light. If there isn't enough to spin, some campaigns will actually invent things. You can fool some of the people all of the time, at least long enough for the polls to close on Election Day. Most voters don't do much of their own research.

One may take the cynical approach deliberately, despite a solid understanding of issues and legislative processes. Or one may take it because of zeal or desperation, or a belief that the worthy end justifies the unworthy means. Likewise, voters on the receiving end may embrace the deception whole-heartedly, despite their understanding of it, if it serves their interests or prejudices. Or they may be too new to the political maelstrom (as seems to be the case with a significant fraction of the Tea Party) or too ignorant or lazy to penetrate the deception.

The conscientious approach is to try to represent each vote or statement accurately. This requires solid knowledge of issues and the legislative process, and some real work. It also requires accepting the uncomfortable idea that the opponent is not always completely wrong about everything.

Since the theme of this series of blog posts is my reasons for supporting Senator Orrin Hatch's reelection, I will illustrate my points with material from his opposition, specifically the very prolific, lavishly funded FreedomWorks and its surrogates. FreedomWorks is not a specific opponent's campaign, but in its opposition research the same spectrum of choices is available. (FreedomWorks is a third party interest group, led by people who cast some of the same votes they're criticizing. They're spending piles of money to defeat conservative Republicans who supposedly aren't conservative enough, and very little to defeat Democrats.)

Months ago, FreedomWorks sent me a 44-page full-color document called "The facts about Orrin Hatch's 36 year record." Despite the abundance of footnotes, many of their "facts" are false or deceptive. A few of their "facts" actually are true. Today I'll give some examples of lies and deception, products of campaigning at the cynical end of the spectrum. In the next post I'll treat some highlights among the items which are true.

For what it's worth, today's mail brought another copy of the same 44-page publication.

I've picked eight examples among dozens. The ones that are outright false I'll call lies. The ones that contain some truth, which doesn't mean what they say it means, I'll call deceptions. (I'm assuming they're all deliberate.) Most of my examples are also common talking points among fellow state delegates who oppose Senator Hatch.


Lie: Senator Hatch Voted to Create the Department of Education in 1979.

In the final roll call vote on the legislation which created the US Department of Education on 24 September 1979, Senator Hatch voted nay. This was the vote on the bill in its final form, which passed both houses and went to President Carter for his signature.

Let's suppose for a moment (rather fancifully, I think) that the FreedomWorks people aren't just lying because they think they can get away with it long enough affect the outcome. Here's what they might have seen and thought they could spin.

Substantive legislation rarely passes the House and Senate in identical forms. Often the differences are large and consequential. When the passed House and Senate bills differ, they are sent to a conference committee consisting of members of both houses, who are appointed by their leaders. This committee attempts to reconcile the two different bills into a single bill, which is usually some sort of compromise. If this committee succeeds, its work product is called the "conference report," but it is really the bill in its final form. This goes back to both houses for an up-or-down vote, without amendment. The vote I just cited, where Senator Hatch opposed the bill, was on the conference report of S. 210 -- the final vote. He voted aye when the Senate originally passed S.210 on 30 April 1979 -- but that was not the final vote.

I haven't asked Senator Hatch about his reasons for voting aye that April, and I haven't taken the time to investigate further, because it's the final vote that matters. Legitimate reasons for voting aye in April and nay in December might include the following.

  • Perhaps he favored the bill in its original form, as passed by the Senate, but not in its final form in the conference report, because of changes made in conference.
  • Perhaps he changed his mind about there being a Department of Education. (Note: This would be a conservative evolution.)
  • Perhaps he voted aye initially to position himself to influence the conference report in some way, to make the bill better in some way, to mitigate the damage it would do, or -- I doubt this happened in this case -- to position himself to sabotage the bill in conference.
  • Perhaps, after his vote in April, he was deluged with protests, to the point that he felt his political survival depended on voting nay in September. (Taking counsel from one's constituents is sometimes a good thing.)

I'm not attributing any of these to Hatch in this case, just noting that legitimate reasons exist -- and attempting to illustrate the need to understand both Senate rules and the actual facts, before leaping to conclusions.

Lie: Senator Hatch Voted to Bail Out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2008.

This was the Foreclosure Prevention Action of 2008. Senator Hatch voted nay. I have no idea what FreedomWorks might have thought they saw here that might be incriminating. However, I will concede that decoding the "question" in this case could be challenging. Maybe they figured that if any of us wondered about it enough to look it up, our eyes would glaze over when we read, "On the Motion (Motion to Concur in the House Amendment to the Senate Amendment to the House Amendments to the Senate Amendment to HR 3221)."

This title itself is not intentional obfuscation, by the way. Real life is complicated, and so is the legislative process. It usually makes more sense at the time, from the inside, than it seems to later, from the outside.

Lie: Senator Hatch Voted to Bail Out GM and Chrysler.

In fact, Hatch voted against cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill (HR 7005) -- essentially voting against there ever being a final vote on it. Having failed at the Senate, the White House decided to use TARP funds that were already available. The vote cited in the FreedomWorks document was on an amendment to the bill that failed, which (need I say?) is not the same thing as a final vote on the bill.

Lie: Senator Hatch Voted for a Bad Energy Bill in 2007.

FreedomWorks cites Hatch's cloture vote as if it were the final vote. In this case, Hatch agreed to support cloture (allowing the bill to come to a vote) in return for some significant changes. When those changes weren't made, he voted against the bill in the final vote.

Lie: Senator Hatch Voted to Reauthorize TARP.

Senator Hatch and most other conservatives on Capitol Hill voted for the bank bailout (Troubled Asset Relief Program) originally. Even Glenn Beck supported it. But FreedomWorks also claims Hatch then voted to reauthorize TARP later, under President Obama.

In fact, Hatch voted present on a motion to prohibit reauthorization and on the resolution itself (SJRes 5), as part of the "live pair" tradition in the Senate. Senator Edward Kennedy was hospitalized and unable to be present to vote. He would have voted nay on the motion and aye on the resolution itself. So another Senator -- Hatch -- who would have voted opposite Kennedy, was chosen to withhold his vote. The thinking is that this tradition prevents hospitalization from determining legislation. In any case, Hatch's vote was not decisive; the motion failed and the resolution passed by several votes. Even if FreedomWorks were oblivious to this Senate tradition, the worst they could truthfully say is that Hatch didn't vote either way, not that he supported reauthorization.

Lie: Senator Hatch Supported a Government Takeover of the Health Care System.

FreedomWorks wants you to associate Senator Hatch with your anger (assuming that is what you feel) over ObamaCare. But Hatch voted against ObamaCare. This charge actually goes back to ObamaCare's failed predecessor, President Clinton's health care plan, sometimes called HillaryCare. Here's the official explanation from Hatch's campaign: "Senator Hatch co-sponsored several Republican alternatives so that Democrats wouldn't be able to claim the Republicans did not have a plan. The strategy worked, and HillaryCare was defeated. The Republican legislation with an individual mandate was promptly abandoned and never came up for debate or for a vote."


Deception: Even Before Obama's "Stimulus" in 2009, Senator Hatch Voted for a Stimulus Bill in 2008, Expanding the Welfare State.

That sounds terrible, doesn't it? Hatch did vote for the bill FreedomWorks cites. So did Paul Ryan. But this "stimulus" was mostly tax cuts, $134 billion in five years. It was not a gargantuan vehicle for pork, like Obama's stimulus. What a difference a year makes . . .

Deception: Hatch Voted Against Removing a $300 Billion Earmark in FHA Insurance.

This was a procedural vote on an amendment to a bill Hatch opposed in the final vote. The impression the accusation creates, that he voted for a $300 billion earmark, is therefore false.

Deception: In 2007 Hatch Voted for "Big Labor's Job-Killing Minimum Wage Hike."

If you know there are enough votes to pass a minimum wage hike -- which conservatives generally consider a bad thing, per basic economics -- you can simply vote nay and watch it pass anyway, or you can propose an alternative that mostly mitigates the damage of the minimum wage hike. In this case, Hatch voted to filibuster (that is, voted against cloture on) a bill which would simply have increased the minimum wage, and instead supported a substitute. This included the minimum wage increase but mitigated its negative impact through tax breaks for small businesses. For those who value good conservative governance over ideological purity, this makes sense.

Concluding Thought

I could go on, but these examples are enough to illustrate how the game is played -- and how FreedomWorks, in this case, is trying to perpetrate a fraud on Utah delegates and voters. You'd think that, after Hatch's 35 years in the Senate, his opponents could pick through his record and find plenty of real things not to like -- maybe even 44 pages' worth. For some reason, they still had to invent a lot of offenses -- all carefully crafted, of course, to incur the wrath of the Tea Party, or at least the less informed and less conscientious wing of that group.

As I noted in the beginning, there are some things in Senator Hatch's record for conservatives not to like, things which are actually true and require explanation. I'll discuss some of those next time.

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