Most public figures would be pleased with the publication of a biographical book, especially one that appears before they die. Sen. Orrin Hatch now has two, albeit by the same author.
In 1994, Lee Roderick authored "Leading the Charge: Orrin Hatch and 20 Years of America." His latest is "Gentleman of the Senate: Orrin Hatch, a Portrait of Character" (Probitas Press, Washington, D.C., $19.95).
Roderick, a veteran journalist who worked in Washington, D.C., for Scripps League Newspapers for 15 years and once served as president of the National Press Club, covered Hatch for nearly 20 years — first for Scripps and then as news director for KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. Currently, he does communications work for Utah State University in Logan.
In a Deseret News interview, Roderick said the major reason for writing the second book lay in his disgust over the moral conduct of President Clinton. "Clinton is the first president to be impeached on a justifiable basis," said Roderick. "This is a historic time, and Hatch was a pretty important player in it. So I decided to bring his story up to date."
In Roderick's opinion, the principal news value of his book is his account of Hatch's conversations with Clinton during the impeachment crisis, which the senator recounted in personal letters to Roderick. "If Clinton had followed Hatch's advice, I don't think he would have been impeached. Clinton never made a clean break, never truly expressed regret or conducted himself any differently."
Roderick freely admits that his book is unabashedly pro-Hatch. "When I started the first book, I had all the prejudices as other members of the press had about him. I thought Hatch was a 'hot dog,' getting ahead of himself. I was pretty skeptical . . . yet I looked in a lot of closets and didn't find any skeletons. He is who he claims to be."
Reached at his office in Washington, Hatch recalled that when Roderick covered him as a journalist he was not always complimentary. "One day he said, 'I want to write your biography,' and I said, 'Oh, no you won't!' Finally, he said he would do it whether I cooperated or not. I was worried sick, but I thought, 'Oh, what the heck?' "
But Hatch was pleasantly surprised at what Roderick wrote, and afterward "he became one of my biggest boosters."
When pressed to name a flaw that could be attributed to the senator, Roderick said, "He is very trusting of people, so he has occasionally been betrayed or embarrassed by people who got close to him for the wrong reasons. He has a soft heart."
Hatch said he is glad he ran for president this year. "I put Utah on the map, knocked down a lot of barriers against my (LDS) faith, won friends for Utah." He considers the high point to have been his appearance before the Christian Coalition, many of whom said Mormons are not Christians.
"I just flat brought that up. I said that a survey reported that 17 percent of people said they would not vote for a Mormon for president. I said, 'I can't do anything about bigots, but I can do a lot about people who are misinformed about my faith. I said, 'We are Christian,' and I thought such bigotry went out when John F. Kennedy was elected as the first Catholic president.
"Then my sense of humor took over, and I couldn't leave well enough alone. I said, 'I'm not trying to put myself in the same category, but if the Savior of the world ran for president, he would have 17 percent against him, too.'
"That went all over the country, and people have said they had not realized Mormons are Christians. A lot of people have said they wish I were still there because I brought a sense of humor and humility to the race."
In looking back on his career, Hatch said, he is "overjoyed" at what he has accomplished in the Senate, based on his friendships with both Democrats and Republicans. Even though he sometimes "gets his back against the wall," he believes other senators know that means he is principled.
"If I feel deeply about something, nothing is going to move me. Some people make a lot of noise, but they have zero influence in getting things done. I feel highly privileged to be in the middle of everything."