Sen. Orrin Hatch's foot-in-the-mouth disease last week is a perfect example of election year excess and of saying one thing in the outback and saying something else in Washington, D.C.
First, though, it must be remembered that while Hatch got caught, almost every other congressman, Republican or Democrat, does the same thing to some extent. Like most of what the junior senator does, he just did it a little more flamboyantly.You remember the flap.
Hatch, in speaking to a St. George audience without a prepared text, said Democrats are the party of homosexuals, the party of abortion. A St. George newspaper reporter wrote a story about it. The story was picked up by the Associated Press and sent through out the nation.
At first, Hatch denied to the AP that he had said, in speaking about the Democratic Party, those exact words: "And of course they love - they are the party of homosexuals; they are the party of abortion . . . " Unfortunately for the senator, a St. George radio reporter was also at the speech and had his tape recorder running.
The battle was on, the press in pursuit. It ended with a story on the CBS national news, and Dan Rather, in effect, calling Hatch a liar.
Such press isn't good for Hatch - although he may take it as a compliment to be so classified by Rather, a man conservatives love to hate - and it doesn't help Utah's national image, either. It does Utahns no good to be portrayed by the national press as welcoming demagoguery.
Hatch claims he never denied making those comments. He says he just didn't remember saying those words. AP reporters in Salt Lake say Hatch did indeed call up and deny he made those comments, and they so reported.
In an airport press conference, Hatch steadfastly refused to back down, however. He stands by his assertions that the national Democratic Party bends to special interest groups, especially gay rights groups and pro-abortion groups. He said if Utah Democrats really knew what was going on with their national party, they wouldn't be Democrats.
He did say that he never intended to call all Democrats homosexuals, and doesn't believe he did. He also said that he didn't intend to say Democrats are the party of homosexuals, and that such a comment was a mistake.
A reporter for the Atlanta Constitution was in town during this incident, following the political activities of ex-heavyweight boxing champion Muhammed Ali, who came to Salt Lake to appear on Hatch's behalf. He called the Deseret News and asked if it was true what the AP reported. I said I assumed it was.
"Can you believe a U.S. senator said that about Democrats?" the Atlanta reporter said. "But then, maybe you don't get hurt hitting on gays in Utah, huh?"
A safe bet, I replied, especially considering that in 1982 the state Republican platform said people shouldn't have the right to practice homosexuality. That caused a stir, also. Those words haven't been found in a state GOP platform since.
Hatch will survive all this, of course.
He leads by 50 points in the polls, has a million dollars in the bank and has every reason to expect six more years in the U.S. Senate. So why, if he is in such good political shape, did he do this?
First, all politicians have a habit of getting carried away when they're preaching to the choir. And rural Utah for the Republicans is the choir. If you've ever attended some of the local county party conventions - and I have - you know what I mean. They let loose, and say stuff they would never say on the floor of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives.
Second, Hatch is the ticket leader this year for the Utah GOP. As such, he sees it as his responsibility to get people to vote for all Republicans. To generically bash the Democrats is one way to do it. However, I don't know how many votes he's bringing to other Republicans by calling Democrats the party of homosexuals.
Finally, Hatch likes to stir people up, and he does it best by being an articulate, forceful spokesman for a number of conservative causes. He's become a regular on the national network Sunday news shows, going toe-to-toe with David Brinkley, Sam Donaldson and Democratic leaders.
He stirred some people up last week by his comments. But whether he got some Republican votes or just left a bad taste in peoples' mouths isn't known.