Bench Memos

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Henry Hyde, Champion of American Constitutionalism


Elsewhere here at NRO you can see tributes to Henry Hyde, the former Illinois congressman who passed away in the wee hours today.  (Start here and here.)  He deserves all of these accolades.  Certainly he is one of the great champions of the unborn in American history.  He was also proof that statesmanship is not inseparable from an outsized ego, and that a life in politics need not ruin a man of character.

I think of him leading the House “managers” who prosecuted the impeachment of President Clinton.  In his closing speech before the Senate took up its duty to judge the case that had been presented to it, Hyde said this, speaking for his fellow House members and their uphill struggle:

Our most formidable opponent has not been opposing counsel, nor any political party.  It has been cynicism–the widespread conviction that all politics and all politicians are by definition corrupt and venal.

That cynicism is an acid eating away at the vital organs of American public life.  It is a clear and present danger because it blinds us to the nobility of being a self-governing people.

And after the acquittal of the president by the Senate, Hyde said this about what he and his fellows had faced when the Starr Report came to the House:

[W]e faced a critical choice.  We could have studied the polls and listened to the pundits and decided that following the Constitution was not in our political best interest.  But we didn’t do that.  Instead, we studied the Constitution, reviewed the precedents, and proceeded forward according to the law.  Five months later, after a trial and much tribulation, I have no regrets.  We fulfilled our oath of office to discharge our duty according to the Constitution.

Henry Hyde was a man who never forgot he came from the Land of Lincoln.

Afterthought:  I should add that Hyde could not have been unmindful of the fact that he spoke the words in the second quotation above on the 190th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.


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