The Corner

Politics & Policy

What Are You Willing to Lose Office For?

Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, presides over an impeachment hearing, November 19, 1998. (Larry Downing / Reuters)

In Reagan’s first term, John Bolton worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development. When he left, his colleagues gave him a souvenir: a dummy hand grenade mounted on a little base. On the base were the words “John R. Bolton, Truest Reaganaut.” Bolton kept the souvenir ever after.

It tells you something.

I relate this story in my Impromptus today, and much else, of course. Bolton has always been an interesting figure, and he has never been more so than now. I think of an interview that Rudy Giuliani gave last year. He said that he worried his epitaph would be, “He lied for Trump.” He went on to say, “Somehow, I don’t think that will be it. But, if it is, so what do I care? I’ll be dead.”

I think I can say with some confidence that John Bolton is not willing for his epitaph to be, “He lied for Trump.”

Time for some mail? In my Impromptus yesterday, I quoted Caddyshack (as one does): “Oh, Danny, this isn’t Russia. Is this Russia? This isn’t Russia, is it? I didn’t think so.” More than one reader quoted A Man for All Seasons. Thomas More says he is afraid. The Duke of Norfolk says, “Man, you’re ill. This isn’t Spain, you know. This is England.” Later, Norfolk says, “Cromwell, are you threatening me?” Cromwell answers, “My dear Norfolk . . . this isn’t Spain. This is England.”

Also in that Impromptus, I spoke of tribalism, which is one of the pressing topics of our day. I got this interesting note from Colorado:

Dear Mr. Nordlinger,

Social media has enabled me to stay in touch with a number of my former military buddies as well as classmates from long ago at the Naval Academy. We have some energetic discussions but there is a fair amount of the “loyalty” you mention. When I point that out, the general response I get is that those in opposition to our views are extremely loyal and that, if we fail to be equally united, we stand to lose an existential battle.

I may not like Trump but I have a fair degree of sympathy for this argument even as the implications are terrifying. We seem to be heading toward the tribalism my buddies and I got to see in the Middle East.

In my column yesterday, I wrote this:

The president cannot make one senator do anything. Each was independently elected. Each swore an oath to defend the Constitution, not to defend a particular man. Each could think, speak, and act independently, if he wanted to: but he would have to want to. No senator is boxed in by anything, except perhaps a lack of spine.

You know what one of the sweetest freedoms of all is? Freedom of conscience.

“But what if a senator winds up losing his seat?” you might ask. So? Worse comes to worst, he’ll have to sit on a few corporate boards. He will not be shipped off to a gulag.

This is America.

Two readers recalled Henry J. Hyde, the longtime congressman from Illinois (Republican). He used to give welcome speeches to newly elected Republicans. Here is something he said on November 29, 1990:

This may sound odd, even ironic. You are here in the flush of victory. And yet it is precisely now that I ask you to contemplate the possibility of defeat — perhaps even the necessity of defeat.

Edmund Burke, in 1774, set forth a model we should all emulate when he told his Bristol constituents: “Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Let me put the matter plainly: If you are here simply as a tote board registering the current state of opinion in your district, you are not going to serve either your constituents or the Congress of the United States weIl.

Your constituents expect you to represent their interests, and that you should certainly do. But you are also a member of the Congress, and your responsibilities are far greater than those of an ombudsman for your district. You must take, at times, a national view, even if, in taking that view, you risk the displeasure of your neighbors and friends back home.

Indeed, I feel obliged to put the matter more sharply still: If you don’t know the principle, or the policy, for which you are willing to lose your office, then you are going to do damage here.

This institution needs more members willing to look beyond the biennial contest for power, more committed to public service as a vocation rather than merely a career.

Hear, hear, as they say in that other legislature, the British parliament.

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