Henry Hyde (1924-2007): Rest in Peace. May Your Assassin Know No Rest
The man I knew for forty years as “Uncle Henry” is gone. There will not be his like in the Congress again soon. Perhaps never. Some thoughts:
I hope that Congressman Rahm Emanuel has retained some portion of the innate grace from his ballet dancing past not to attend Henry’s wake or funeral. But if he goes it will be typical.
Typical because as everyone in Washington knows including the media that will not publish it, Emanuel, once President Bill Clinton’s assassin (felicitously called his political director) looked skyward in innocence as porno-magazine owner-editor Larry Flynt disclosed that decades earlier Henry had an affair from his Illinois legislature days—which was supposed to tit for tat, to even things up with a president who allowed himself to be pleasured in an anteroom off the Oval Office by a courtesan intern paid by the taxpayers…on occasions enjoying himself with her even when a House member was on the phone talking to him about the possibility of war…who then lied about it under federal oath, lied to the people and then admitted he lied.
You see, chortled Emanuel executing his Grand Pas d’action, Hyde is a hypocrite! Everybody does it! Evil that is performed should be countenanced as self-justificatory. People lie so the truth should be repealed. The Clintonesque media loved it and still do. With that supreme bettement tendu jete Emanuel left the business and went on to become a multi-millionaire investment banker who legally yes but adroitly used his old White House contacts to enrich himself when he knew nothing about banking, to run for office as an interloper in his district and, reverting to his old trade to complain that a female Democratic competitor who lived there all her life, was the beneficiary of an attack by her near-senile supporter who mistakenly said Emanuel had dual citizenship which Emanuel escalated to an anti-Semitic insult; nd, once nominated gain the help of Mayor Daley’s water commissioner and patronage workers to elect him to the House…where he landed a seat on Ways and Means and chairmanship of the “D triple C.” And now as head of the Democratic House caucus. There he stands as a gaunt, grey-faced shadow behind Nancy Pelosi. Very impressive.
Where Rahm is different than anyone else in this game is that everyone else in politics at one time or other had a job to do they didn’t like. As one who knew him many years ago when he was young (young? he was never young) there’s nothing about the work Rahm doesn’t like. Including the job he was shocked, shocked to see done on Henry Hyde, scars of which were carried in Hyde’s failing health and in today’s obituary.
You would not expect a him to feel remorse. So he will step to the bier, lean, gaunt-like, looking for all the world as an advance-man for a famine. He will be in his proper navy blue sincere suit, dark tie with Windsor knot with his cavernous eyes lowered reverently in sorrow. Corleone orders the cortege car to follow the hearse overflowing with expensive flowers bearing the ribbon: “From a bereaved friend.”
Almost as if Henry hadn’t received this threat from the bad-breathed one who said:
You can have it both ways if you’re smart, Henry. Vote for impeachment but see that it doesn’t pass the Committee. Think of your family. Your wife is already dead, god rest her soul but your daughters and sons who look up to you and their children, what will they think of you? Understand this is a war but it is different here than the war you fought in World War II. Then you could fire a gun and kill somebody a mile away. Not now. You want this to go into your obituary? It will if we bring it out or if Mr. Flynt brings it up in his magazine. But you can spare yourself this.
Henry said later to me: “I couldn’t live with myself if I listened to that.” Before retirement when asked if he would go through the impeachment again he said, “honestly, I don’t know.” But when he was confronted by the bad-breathed surrogate who said all this– you won’t have to go through if you kill impeachment—Henry answered no. Even so, he knew the media world wouldn’t understand the difference between a president sworn to defend the Constitution lying under oath and a guy decades ago with a woman. They didn’t then; they don’t now. They can’t afford to see the difference.
Twice the bad-breathed one approached him. The second time he said fundamentally this–
This is the real world, Henry and just as you prepare to bring impeachment think of what our disclosure will do to you and your family. You go to Mass now every morning and to communion, too. Well think of what those in the pews will think as you go up there to receive the Eucharist Henry; think of what they will say. They will say this is Henry Hyde the adulterer. Think what your grandchildren will say and think about you forever, Henry. Do you understand?
Henry did and carried out his duty. The Flynt charge was made. It hit Hyde harder than he thought it would. It stayed with him for life. Once he told me that he had been hit by the “Irish sickness,” i.e. depression. Much later he began to physically fail after an operation. He began to fall. He had to get a wheel-chair.
He told me with a smile, “I think the wheels are coming off” but a committee staffer Tom Streithorst said, “you know what it is? It’s the affair. It’s killing him physically. He’s of the older generation. Your generation. These days a long-ago episode means very little. But bred as he is in the Judeo-Christian tradition, what was a meaningless thing long ago rides with him now as he looks at his children. He’s mortified. He will never be the same.”
When he brought the bill of impeachment to the august Senate, he was told by Trent Lott that it wouldn’t fly. Lott had been a boy cheerleader at Old Miss, the man with bad breath had reminded somebody with a hint of more to come. Ted Stevens said it was inconceivable to do this for a lie about sex. The man with bad breath? Anyhow, the Republican Senate crumbled. No president can lie under oath, violate the Constitution and not pay a price. He did but they got even.
When I had lunch with Henry near his retirement home in Geneva, I knew he had overcome it. He told one funny story after another. Frankly, I thought he was still under-appreciative of what he had accomplished. That’s why, I hope that before his heart stopped early-early last morning at 3:30 a.m. or so he understood fully where he stands in our firmament.
The man who died yesterday truly fit the title “United States Representative in Congress” where many do not: they are just locals sent to the House to get goodies for their districts and then quit when they can play the lobbying game and make a lot of money. Not Henry Hyde. He stayed until he could stand no more and he went home.
In retrospect, it is clear that he was a man of the Whole House and the Whole Congress. For one thing, it’s an anomaly but his great goals were achieved much easier when the House was run by the Democrats. Maybe that was because Democrats knew him for what he was–instinctively he always was a Chicago blue-collar working guy, an Irish Catholic Democrat from birth.
To his greatest credit: He enacted the Hyde amendment…the first curtailment of abortion since “Roe v. Wade” and passed it repeatedly each congressional session through Democratic as well as Republican houses. It is intriguing that only when Republicans gained control of the House that he ran into trouble with the establishment of that body. There had been an understanding under Republicans following the accession of Newt Gingrich that committee chairmen serve out term limits to allow others to be chairman. Impeachment took up so much time when he was judiciary chairman that when impeachment was completed, he asked Speaker J. Dennis Hastert for am extension to allow him to work on other things that had been on his agenda. The Speaker waggled his eyebrows, pursed his lips as if to say something important and then decided not to. The answer came from Hastert’s top Illinois minion: no, you will have to step down, because as you know, rules are rules.
So Hyde did. Since he had been ranking Republican on House International Affairs he was thought a natural to become chairman of it. But just to be sure he asked Hastert. The Speaker listened to his request, waggled his eyebrows, pursued his lips as if to say something important and then decided not to. The answer came from the same Hastert minion: no, you see, the Speaker favors someone else for the job. Not you..
Thereupon Henry ran for the chairmanship that should have been conferred on him as his right– against the guy as an insurgent against the Hastert machine, , knocked him off and became chairman of International Affairs.
Whenever Henry is laid to rest they will be burying one of the few “national” House members (only 18 since 1789) in our nation’s history. These few started with…
…the man who could have either a House or Senate seat and decided on the House since it was, in his view, more important and from which he wrote and caused to be passed the Bill of Rights, Rep. James Madison of Virginia. Rep. Fisher Ames of Massachusetts who served in the first, second and third Congresses and devised the committee system; Rep. Henry Clay of Kentucky who as Speaker made the job second in influence only to that of the president (before we went to the Senate) but who at the same time relaxed the Speaker’s autocratic control over members. They include…
… Rep. John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, outnumbered by pro-slavery members and northern compromisers but so influential he was called Old Man Eloquent, whose greatness was made in the House against slavery (following his ineffective presidency) and who died on the House floor; Rep. Thaddeus Stevens of Vermont, the abolitionist, who brought articles of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson; Rep. James Garfield of Ohio, who made his mark as banking and currency chairman to oppose roaring inflation and as Republican floor leader of the House; Rep. William McKinley of Ohio who as Ways and Means chairman glimpsed the future of economic growth he was later to certify as president; Thomas B. Reed of Maine who restored hierarchal control as a powerful Speaker to join in tandem with Theodore Roosevelt. And also….
…Rep. .Joseph Cannon of Illinois who as Speaker re-directed what had become a loose collection of discordant debaters into a legislative power once again; Rep. George Norris of Nebraska who successfully challenged Cannon when he grew tyrannical and made the body more democratic; Rep. Fiorello H. LaGuardia of New York who with Norris banned employers’ from preventing their workers to organize into unions; Rep. Robert (“Fighting Bob”) La Follette of Wisconsin who with his progressive sons who fought the growing power of corporations over U.S. political life; Rep. Jeannette Rankin of Montana, a doughty feminist, the first woman to ever serve in the House and who voted against our entry into two world wars. Plus another great woman…
…Rep. Jessie Sumner of Illinois, the agrarian populist who urged farmers to raise less corn and more hell; Rep. Sam Rayburn of Texas who was by all odds the outstanding Speaker of the 20th century during seventeen years ranging from FDR’s progressivism to Dwight Eisenhower’s moderation; Rep. Walter Judd of Minnesota who alerted the country to the Nazi and Japanese threat and to the threat of communism. His strong right arm on Foreign Affairs from Illinois the indomitable Marguerite Stitt Church of Illinois and of course…
… Newt Gingrich of Georgia, no friend of Henry’s, but the most innovative and creative (in policy) Speaker since Clay, yet a disastrous and chaotic mis-manager, reckoned even today as 50% genius and 50% nuts. His hammer, a man who had killed bugs for a living in Dallas, Rep. Tom De Lay of Texas, the most effective majority leader (of either party) in its history.
The history of this country spans what began as an aristocracy and expanded to step-by-step to reach out to the little people. We waged successful battles against slavery, sweatshops, segregation; we instilled taboos against incest, bestiality, cannibalism, prostitution, drug addiction, mutilation, self-degradation. First property owners only voted, then with Jefferson and Jackson the “great unwashed,” then after Lincoln the blacks, followed by the empowerment of labor to somewhat match capital; farmers to equate their power with the railroad barons; women to win the vote alongside the men; motor-voter expanding the franchise.
Finally…finally…someone stood up to defend the littlest people of all—the unborn. It happened first in the state House and then, after he modestly declined the honor in the U.S. House and could find no one else (they were all afraid), he pulled a scrap from his notebook and wrote in longhand what was to become the Hyde Amendment.
Someday when we get over our contemporary misapplication of “liberalism” which negates the rights of the unborn and get back to what liberalism was meant to be, Henry Hyde…once a blue-collar Democrat and since then a blue-collar Republican…will be remembered as he truly was—the Greatest Abolitionist and protector of human rights.. That time is not here yet. America has a wondrous habit of denial on abortion. It is like (as he once said) the 13th floor in a hotel: a floor that technically doesn’t exist but in reality does.. You get in an elevator and go up through the floors—1-2-3…up to 10-11-12…and 14. Wait! You say: What happened to the 13th floor? Nothing. It’s there only it’s ignored. We call it Floor 14. Like Floor 13 we just choose to ignore it. But thanks to him we have recognized it.
It is no exaggeration to say that Henry Hyde saved millions of lives that would have been otherwise snuffed out. Which served human rights greater than these: Alexander Hamilton, who raged against the slave trade in New York but couldn’t change it; these anti-slave trade leaders talked the talk well but couldn’t change things: Julia Ward Howe, John Jay, Elijah Lovejoy, Lucretia Mott, Tom Paine, Henry David Thoreau, Sojurner Truth, William Wilberforce. Henry Hyde actually passed legislation that not only defended rights but saved millions of lives.
We will see that one day. Not now with this squalid culture but someday.
Henry told me one day…probably anticipating what was to come through his own personal Gethsemane…that the great incentive to be pro-life is this: that no matter how we may have messed up earlier in life, if he defend the unborn children, his great expectation is that when the most unworthy of us arrives Up There, they will hear a chorus of angelic voices. They will be the voices that were stilled by abortion but who will greet us.
As a fellow earthen vessel, I hope a small trio of singers will greet me. I know…I am sure…an orchestral symphony the size of the Mormon Tabernacle choir will and are greeting Henry with a heavenly concert exulting praise for what he has done to stir the nation’s conscience in their behalf.
Well done to the man I used to call in all fondness “Uncle Henry.”
The assassin never laid a glove on your matchless reputation.
God bless you and keep you in His bosom, sir.
Thomas F. Roeser was a longtime friend of Henry Hyde and is chairman of the editorial board of The Chicago Daily Observer.