What if Richard Nixon had listened to Billy Graham's pleas and picked Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield as his running mate in 1968?
Hatfield died this week at age 89. In 1968 Nixon was looking for a moderate Republican and his short list included Hatfield and Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew. Graham was encouraging the Hatfield selection because the Oregon senator was one of the few evangelicals in national politics at that time.
In the midst of the Watergate scandal in 1973, Agnew had to resign for taking bribes as governor. The United States government was on shaky ground. Nixon was threatened with impeachment. House Speaker Carl Albert, who was next in line for the White House, had a drinking problem. The Cold War with the Soviet Union was still pretty hot, along with a war between Egypt and Israel.
As vice president Hatfield might have steered Nixon away from the siege mentality that led to Watergate. What Hatfield brought to politics was personal integrity rooted in his evangelical Christian faith. He also had a faith-based emphasis on personal relationships, or friendships, that transcended ideological differences in politics. It wasn't necessarily splitting differences to find some middle ground, but something more profound.
One example was his friendship with Sen. John Stennis of Mississippi. Hatfield was a civil rights activist, Stennis a segregationist. Stennis was a hawk in military matters, the opposite of Hatfield. But Hatfield was a prayer partner with Stennis, a friend to Stennis even when the older man was sick and dying and was no longer politically important.
Hatfield had character and integrity before those words became hot topics for cultural discussion.