Senator Orrin Hatch is one of those easily caricatured figures of cartoonishly prudish conservativism, so naturally everyone back home in Utah is now furious with him for associating with black criminals.

It began with the news of the commutation of producer and rapper John Forte's sentence for intent to distribute cocaine, a trumped-up charge with a long mandatory sentence. Bush commuted Forte's sentence after lobbying by Carly Simon! Forte will be released from prison today! Christmas miracle! Thanks also, iit turns out, to lobbying from Orrin Hatch!

This is how how Hatch's hometown paper headlined that news: "Hatch: Convicted cocaine dealer a 'genius'" Hah. Ha ha ha.

Here are what his constituents say, writing into the Salt Lake Tribune.

Orrin Hatch has absolutely no moral compass. To all the drug dealers doing business across the street from the local elementary school playground or in the high school parking lot, sleep well at night because Sen. Hatch believes you pose no risk to society if you don't actually use the methamphetamine or crack cocaine you're selling to our children.

What is it with Sen. Orrin Hatch and drug dealers?

Hatch is currently urging a presidential pardon for rapper John Forte's prison sentence for drug dealing ("Hatch: Convicted dealer a 'genius,' " Tribune, Dec. 3). That reminded me of an earlier intervention Hatch sought. In 2006, he helped spring hit-record producer Dallas Austin after he was arrested and sentenced in Dubai for transporting cocaine.

Write some music, perhaps sing one of Hatch's songs, and you get a get-out-of-jail-free card. Now that is Utah values!

Honestly, it's hard to feel too bad for Hatch, because when he got his start in politics he'd have framed it the same way:

Hatch was a more one-dimensional figure when he arrived in the senate almost 30 years ago. A fire-and-brimstone values crusader, he introduced a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade and was prone to saying things like, "Democrats are the party of homosexuals." In his early career, he routinely tallied one of the most conservative Senate voting records. His intensity rankled even his GOP colleagues, one of whom later admitted he thought Hatch was an egomaniac with an irritating "save-the-world complex."

But that helped him score points in the GOP as a reliable attack dog. During the Iran-Contra hearings, no one defended Oliver North and the Reagan White House more stubbornly. And during Clarence Thomas's 1991 confirmation battle, no one trashed Anita Hill with more zest. (Among other things, Hatch bizarrely suggested Hill might have lifted her famous tale about pubic hair and Coke from The Exorcist.)

But now he's been in the Senate so long, hanging out with Ted Kennedy, that even this dull old Mormon is befriending blakc drug dealers as long as they're Exeter-educated musicians. Washington changes people, man. Orrin Hatch used to not be about the music.