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America's big shift right

Why the country's conservative drift, on a wide range of issues, has accelerated.

A photo of the exterior of the US Capitol dome in Washington, D.C. This is the focus story in the Aug. 1 weekly edition of the Christian Science Monitor.

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For a generation, he has been considered a model of conservatism in Washington – at moments, perhaps, the model. Over the course of his 34-year career, US Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah has clashed with Big Labor. He has championed right-wing judicial nominees. He has consistently opposed federal gun control measures and backed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. He has sponsored or cosponsored a balanced budget amendment – which would require Congress to spend no more than it collects in revenues – no fewer than 17 times. In 2010, the American Conservative Union gave him a perfect 100 ranking.

Yet today Mr. Hatch faces formidable opposition – for not being conservative enough. Activists on the right are attacking him for his vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the financial-market bailout initiative, and his willingness to work with Democrats like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. They complain that he has voted to raise the debt ceiling 16 times. It's looking increasingly as if Hatch will face a Republican primary challenger next year – and could very well lose.

In some respects, this is simply a case of a senator who's spent more than three decades in Washington butting up against a public mood that is intensely antiestablishment and – particularly on the right – opposed to compromise. Like most longtime public servants, Hatch has cast a number of difficult votes over the years, and he has at times reached across the aisle in order to get things done.

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