Orrin Hatch, Lib-Lover

According to this week’s Weekly Standard, Orrin Hatch’s lib-bashing credentials are wanting. Yes, he called Bill Clinton a “jerk,” and defended Ken Starr, and remains despised by Mary McGrory (Chatterbox’s favorite political columnist). But he’s civil to Ted Kennedy! And he’s equivocated on whether the Secret Service should be required to testify about a sitting president! And he said that if Clinton came clean he probably wouldn’t be removed from office! (This last hypothetical, uttered last summer, seems quaint today: Clinton still hasn’t come entirely clean, and he still probably won’t be removed from office.)

The Weekly Standard’s Matthew Rees, in an interview, quizzed Hatch mercilessly about his deviationism. Trying to get himself off the griddle, Hatch said: “Every statement I’ve made has helped make us look like we’re not trying to screw the guy. I’ve actually put Clinton in a bind by being moderate in tone.” Chatterbox hears an echo of George Bush’s deconstructionist politics (“Message: I care”), in which no public utterance even pretends to have any purpose other than the manipulation of appearances. Why didn’t Hatch say, “Look, I don’t like the guy, but he’s the president and I want to be fair to him”? Because the Weekly Standard would mock him for taking such an abjectly moral stance. (Moral stances are permissible only when they further partisan causes.) Instead, to avoid shocking the Weekly Standard, Hatch said something that should shock the rest of us.

–Timothy Noah