Library exhibition on the life and legacy of Mark O. Hatfield
Oscar Calvete Al-Khalidi
The Exhibition on the Life and Legacy of Willamette Alumni Mark O. Hatfield has reached the end of its tenure on campus, beginning in mid-October, proceeding now to a new venue. From what was once seemingly part of the main library’s permanent decor, it is quite possible that you may have missed the informative foldable screens at the top of the stairwell. The nomadic exhibition was put together by the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) as an easily accessible, movable homage to the state’s beloved politician, meant to detail the highlights of his career. The OHS’s Executive Director, Kerry Tymchuck referred to Hatfield as, “the most iconic, influential, respected politician in Oregon History.”
Despite the fact that the exhibition is departing campus, the reason for its existence in the first place is still worth remembering-the relationship between politician Mark O. Hatfield and Willamette University is a long-standing one. Hatfield involved himself in the University’s community first as a student, then as a professor. This is not to say that the presence of one impacted the trajectory of the other, only that the career of Senator Hatfield has been exemplified in recent history. This career, quite romantically, began and ended at Willamette. Thus, the exhibition is a celebration of his achievements not as an estranged politician, but rather as an Oregonian and alumnus of the University.
Hatfield retired from his political career in 1996, having never lost an election in the 46 years and 11 campaigns he partook in in order to become an elected official. This winning streak is with one exception, a political campaign preceding state politics, his attempt to secure the student body presidency at Willamette. Such details speak to the intricacies of the relationship between the Senator and the University.
The exhibition recapitulates Hatfield’s career under various subheadings, all pertaining to his various areas of professional interest and ranging from: the wilderness, infrastructure, peace, people, education and healthcare. Some of these areas of political involvement are more attractive than others, such as the Senator’s strides towards the safeguarding of Oregon’s natural beauty, which will likely capture one’s attention faster than his inputs on infrastructure.
The information that is provided is very succinct and concise. It makes it very easy to get a broad understanding of the Senator’s career, as well as a semi-glamorous showreel of his defining actions both before and after his career. On the basis of these achievements, assertions are made of Hatfield’s character, some of which may be truer than others. Notions of Senator Hatfield as a poignant pacifist, for example, seem particularly well substantiated via the items in the exhibition, whereas other details from his personal life appear to be far less relevant. The exhibition also takes great care in its discussion of experiences in the Vietnam war, which it explains as being inspiring and repeatedly integral to the Senator’s approaches on nuclear armament and military conflict.
Further and not especially rigorous research into the life of Senator Hatfield reveals intriguing information that has evidently not made it onto the exhibition’s screens. Some might view this as forgivable, for there is no indication made by the exhibition that its purpose is to purely be a biographical piece. Instead, it tends to inform the viewer of Hatfield’s career in the same way that a series of trailers might inform them of a film. This is an understandable approach, as it is difficult to dismiss the vast political presence that the Senator had in Washington D.C., having read across this historiographical showreel. Unfortunately, however, this focus on his career, whilst it does a good job of upholding the valor of his character, also neglects other evidence that might highlight his intriguing personal life. The Senator began his adult life with a great deal of pressure, having been involved in a tragic accident that resulted in the death of a member of the public.
Within the broad discourse of modern politics, it would not be far-fetched to assume a general lack of respect targeted by the American people towards the Senate. Accusations of corruption and supreme self-service have led to a situation wherein many readily undermine this institution as a morally dilapidated domicile and not the House of a constitutionally and ethically endorsed wing of government. Understanding as these accusations may be, they should be aimed towards the Senate, rather than Senator Hatfield himself who had come to be regarded by his peers as the conscience of the U.S. Senate. This final appellation speaks once again to the character of the Senator as being one who was capable of carrying forth both an ethos of sympathy, as well as an omniscient understanding of the diverse whole of his citizens.
One would hope the University’s veneration of Senator Hatfield stems from a recognition and admiration for the commendable ethos he exhibited throughout his life. So much has this ethos resonated on-campus that, including this exhibition, there has been a clear, conscious and noble desire to assimilate the character of the Senator into that of the University. Perhaps then, this exhibition can be viewed not simply as a recognition of Hatfield’s political involvement, but rather as part of the institution’s relentless quest to both reaffirm and realign its own image and value system with his.