Senator Orrin Hatch's recent comments make it obvious that he is running for reelection in a state with insensitive and extreme political views. First, he emphasized that the poor need to "share some responsibility" for the country's fiscal problems -- a modest proposal suited for literary satire. Second, he claimed that the poorest half of the population must pay more taxes -- a proposal that should alienate half of his voters. Those aren't the typical sound bites of a politician seeking reelection, but Senator Hatch is not running for reelection in a typical jurisdiction. Utah voters demand perverse (Senator Hatch's word) and extreme actions from their elected officials.
A political system is perverse if it demands that its elected officials wage war against the most vulnerable members of society (the poor) or recommend legislative action that will have a direct negative effect on half of the electorate. Senator Hatch is well acquainted with his constituency, and he knows that he must attack the poorest segment of society to stand a chance to be reelected. That says something (which we should learn to expect) about the voters in Utah.
Senator Hatch has been in office since 1976, but he has reason to worry about being reelected. Several recent events illustrate the extreme nature of Utah's political environment and help explain Senator Hatch's perverse statements. The events also expose Utah's insensitivity, penchant for political extremism, and intolerance for even the slightest deviation from its unique interpretation of the Constitution.
Last year, the state voted to remove Bob Bennett (a very conservative U.S. senator) from office because he wasn't conservative enough. In effect, the people of that state replaced a long-time, fairly powerful, senator (Bennett had served for 18 years and was close to Republican leaders) with a relatively unknown junior lawmaker who will have little, if any, influence for some time. The state's willingness to depose the likes of Senator Bennett gives Senator Hatch reason to be concerned.
In fact, members of the Utah Tea Party have already expressed dissatisfaction with Senator Hatch, claiming that he is not conservative enough. Senator Hatch's camp is fully aware that his seat is not safe, and they recognize that he must appeal to extreme conservatives in order to retain his position. That form of conservativism appears to demand that Senator Hatch attack the poor and propose ideas that would otherwise alienate a majority of the electorate.
Recent legislation demonstrates that Utah is prone to enact insensitive and extreme laws and provides insight into the electorate's mindset. Take for example the state's adoption of a "state gun." Lawmakers proposed the state gun legislation a few weeks after Representative Gabrielle Giffords and several others were shot in Arizona. Such insensitive actions reveal the state's lack of empathy and help explain why Senator Hatch feels compelled to attack the defenseless poor.
Utah's law that made precious metals legal tender is an example of the state's extremism. That law appears to be innocuous (and truly is), but those who support the law see it as a precursor to a state currency. The law shows that voters in Utah demand extreme actions from their elected officials, and Senator Hatch's proposal to increase the tax of half the population appears to be a reaction to the voters' addiction to extremism.
Income statistics reveal the extreme nature of Senator Hatch's proposal. No one in the bottom 56% of the U.S. population reports more than $40,000 of adjusted gross income. The average adjusted gross income of a tax return in that group is about $18,000. Compare that group to the wealthiest 0.63% of the population. The average adjusted gross income of a tax return of the wealthiest 0.63% of the population is $1,633,000. Despite the huge income disparity (and the ability of the wealthy to pay more tax without foregoing basic needs), Senator Hatch wants those who, on average report $18,000 of adjusted gross income, to pay more taxes. He is doing nothing to increase the tax of the wealthiest individuals.
It is astounding that a group of voters demands such an insensitive proposal. It is shocking that the majority of a group of voters would support a proposal that adversely affects themselves.
With more than 30 years of experience in Utah politics, Senator Hatch understands the political climate better than anyone. Although his statements are perverse, insensitive, unreasonable, and extreme, he knows what it will take to win reelection, and he is speaking to his constituency. We shouldn't be shocked by other things he will say over the coming months--we should learn to expect extreme and insensitive proposals from Utah's elected officials.