As we mourn the loss of Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, let us remember and embrace the lessons he taught.
Sen. Hatfield was a true statesman - a public servant who worked across party lines to pursue peace. When I was in junior high school and first learning about international issues, he inspired me through his powerful words and by matching his actions with his rhetoric.
Now, I work in Washington DC and am, like many Americans, deeply concerned that our democracy is broken. With each passing week, it seems to get harder and harder to find anything to believe in. We see a sad parade of “leaders” pretending to serve the public when they really serve only themselves and the big donors who fund overpriced campaigns. We see Republicans and Democrats unable to work together for the common good.
This would be a good moment to pause and reflect on leaders from a not so distant past who found another way. Sen. Hatfield bravely spoke his mind on a range of vital issues. The New York Times piece
on him from August 8, 2011 reminds us of the moral clarity that guided his years of public service. They write, “In 1982, he allied with Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts to campaign for a mutual, United States-Soviet freeze on nuclear weapons. “I see all life as a part of God’s creation,” he told The Christian Science Monitor, “and I think it’s rather audacious and presumptuous of humankind to consider that it has the right to destroy creation, to destroy all life.”
These words resonated with me. Having a nationally respected Republican leader speak with such a voice meant the world to me. Yes indeed Sen. Hatfield it is “rather audacious” of us to pursue policies that “destroy creation.” These are words that should speak to the vast majority of Americans who want to see a better day.
Leaders need not speak to our worst instincts, playing us off against one another. Leaders need not pander to the hatred that is spreading in our time of economic challenge. Instead true leaders can call us forward to a brighter future. Now as we remember Sen. Mark Hatfield, let this moment be one in which we ask our leaders to put aside narrow concerns about the next election and help us find a path we can all be proud of. While we should avoid glorifying the past in ways that obscure the real challenges of those times, it is very important that we remember that we as a people are capable of a political debate that elevates us all.
Sen. Hatfield you will be missed and I hope with all my heart we can learn your powerful lessons and thus address the dangerous madness that has come upon us.
Sen. Hatfield inspired many of us. For more on this amazing man, please see two thoughtful posts by respected leaders in the peace community John Isaacs, Executive Director of the Council for a Livable World
and Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control
and a former PSR staff leader.