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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Henry Hyde's finest hour

By Dennis Byrne

How best to remember Henry Hyde? With his own words.

As I wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times column, the best of Henry Hyde is perhaps one of the great speeches in the history of Congress: His Jan. 16, 1999 closing argument in support of the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.

It is, I wrote in 1999,
a gift to the people of the United States. It should be read, savored and preserved by all who love liberty and justice. It is the most eloquent dissent of this or any recent decade against the disintegration of the American community, a place where dedication to principle, respect for the law and the rights of the powerless against assaults by the mighty once were revered as high political virtue.

Hyde spoke of the “covenant” that Clinton himself espoused early in his term, that the presidency was a solemn pact of mutual trust and obligation with the American people. Said Hyde: “Trust—not what James Madison called the parchment barriers of laws—is the fundamental bond between the people and their elected representatives; between those who govern and those who are governed. Trust is the mortar that secures the foundations of the American house of freedom…

“We here today are the heirs of 3,000 years of history in which humanity slowly and painfully, and at great cost, evolved a form of politics in which law, not brute force, is the arbiter of our public destinies…The rule of law is no pious aspiration from a civics textbook. The rule of law is what stands between us and the arbitrary exercise of power by the state. The rule of law is the safeguard of our liberties. The rule of law is what allows us to live our freedom in ways that honor the freedom of others while strengthening the common good.”

What remains today, I wrote then, after the Senate acquitted Clinton, were Senators, who in turning their backs on the rule of law for the sake of personal preservation, partisan interest and public popularity, are mere echoes of a handful of people who loved their country more than themselves. The kind of people that John F. Kennedy wrote about in his Profiles in Courage.
The speech is worth reading in its entirety. It can be found here.


Anonymous said...

I could accept this soaring rhetoric on the rule of law more easily had Hyde not sought the FBI go after the person who broke the story about his adultry. Which, by the way, Hyde lied about (according to a statement put out by the woman in the affair).

Dennis, remember the piece you wrote about "The Bridges of Madison County" from the point of view of the husband. Google up the statement by the man whose marriage Hyde ruined and compare the two.

And what did Hyde call it? Oh yeah, "youthful indescretion." Pretty flip way to treat one of the commandments from a leader of the pro-life movement. You'd almost think it was picking and chosing.

By the way, I supported the impeachment of Clinton.

Now, if you want to talk about the rule of law, you might explain to me how 5 supreme court justices who were known for taking a narrow view of the equal protection clause could make an expansive interpretation of it in the most political case in history, then put in a footnote that because the case was so "unique" it should never be cited as precedence by lower courts in the future.

If you don't want to post this out of respect for the dead, that's fine, but I couldn't swallow this read and let it go unanswered.

Dennis Byrne said...

Dear Anonymous,

As I said, I think it was the best of Henry Hyde. I didn't think it was the middling or worst. I still feel the same way about cheating in marriage (and, wow, you remember the Bridges column--I'm flattered)and that applies to Hyde. We're all flawed, and that goes for Hyde, too. Thanks for the post.