Gentleman of the Senate: Orrin Hatch, A Portrait of Character; by Lee Roderick; Probitas Press; 329 pages; $19.95.
Most scholars believe that public figures benefit the most if biographers paint a balanced picture for the reader, including mistakes as well as successes. Unfortunately, if a writer gets too close to his subject, the result is likely to be one-sided and less believable.
Such is the case with Lee Roderick's handsomely designed second book on Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
A former Washington journalist, Roderick covered Hatch for 20 years for both Scripps League Newspapers and later for KSL-TV in Salt Lake City. Initially conceived as a presidential campaign biography, this book seems a bit odd coming out now, when Hatch's run for the presidency is over, and he is far ahead in his Senate re-election race.
Billed as a follow-up to the earlier book, "Leading the Charge," this is not a true biography. It is part summary of Hatch's most revered legislation, part trivia about Hatch and his prominent friends and part diatribe against President Clinton. Among other things, Roderick accuses Clinton of "violating prom queens with impunity," goes into great detail about the tiresome subject of Monica Lewinsky and labels Paula Jones "a cosmetically challenged woman."
The author correctly points out that Hatch has been an unusually productive legislator, one who actually gets an enormous number of bills passed into law, and he does so by using rare political expertise and collaboration with senators on the other side of the aisle. Hatch also has thoroughly dominated the passage of legislation as compared with other members of the Utah delegation. The author's claim, however, that Hatch "played a key role" in ending the Cold War is unpersuasive.
Some of Hatch's most important legislation deals with especially sensitive and important matters, such as the AIDS crisis, religious freedom, children, women and families, education and justice. We need to know more about how he accomplished these things.
From a trivial standpoint, we learn more about Hatch than we may have wanted to know, such as the fact that he wears size 12AA shoes, which he buys from Land's End, for $75-$100 a pair; his "crisp, high-collar dress shirts" come from a Paul Frederick catalogue for $20-$40 each; his wife, Elaine, irons them "on an ironing board set up in their second-floor master bedroom"; he buys his suits off the rack at Mr. Mac's in Salt Lake City for $199 each; and his favorite restaurant is Chuck-A-Rama , where he gets the "bounteous buffet dinner for $7.99."
We learn about Hatch's friendships with prominent people (name-dropping) and his recent collaboration with Janice Kapp Perry to write songs. We are also subjected to several pages of political jokes Hatch has told. And even though Hatch is said to be a modest man who performs acts of service and charity in private, the author describes many such acts in detail.
For the historical record, it is to be hoped that a qualified political historian will eventually do a "warts-and-all" biography of Hatch that will stand the test of time because he is unquestionably one of Utah's most important political figures.