Friday, January 20, 2006

Henry Hyde: And Why His Picture is Up Here

When on the third week of April, 1789 Vice President-Elect John Adams arrived in New York by carriage from Quincy, Massachusetts for the first Congress he was met at the northern end of Manhattan Island at Spuyten Duyvil Creek. But something was on Adams’ mind that indicated the importance he gave to status befitting his role as president of the first session of the United States Senate. As he jounced along, he bounced his questions to the delegation—Senator Tristram Dalton of Massachusetts, Senator Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut and those whom history merely records as three members of the House of Representatives.

You would think the powerfully serious Adams, the legislative leader of the Revolution, would be wondering how the new nation would fare in the first real excursion in world history as a democratic republic. No. Something more pervasive was on his mind, which typified the important—indeed the pomposity—that has been invested in the Senate since it founding and which distinguishes it from the House which was labeled by the founders statement “here the people rule.” History records these words from Adams to those who met him: “Gentlemen, I feel great difficulty how to act. I am possessed of two separate powers: the one `in esse’ and the other `in posse.’ I am Vice President. In this I am nothing but I may be everything. But I am president also of the Senate. When the President comes into the Senate, wha shall I be? I can nolt be [president] then. No, gentlemen, I can not. I can no. I wish gentlemen to think what I shall be.”

Nobody had a clue. Moreover they didn’t even on the great day, April 30 when the Senate assembled at eleven-thirty to greet the members of the House for the joint session to greet George Washington. But Adams was still fretting. “Gentlemen,” the official minutes record him as saying to the Senators, “I wish for direction of the Senate. The President will, I suppose, address the Congress. How shall I behave? How shall we receive it? Shall it be standing or sitting?” Sen. Richard Henry Lee responded according to the official record “beginning with the House of Commons (as is usual with him) then the House of Lords, then the King and back again. The result of his information was that the Lords sat and the Commons stood on the delivery of the King’s speech. Mr. Izard got up and…made however this sagacious discovery, that the Common stood because they had no seats to sit on being arrived at the bar of the House of Lords…Mr. Adams got up again and said he had been very often indeed at the Parliament on these occasions but there was always such a crowd, and ladies along, that for his part he could not say how it was.”

At that point the discussion was interrupted when the clerk of the House appeared at t he Senate door with a communication. Adams halted him and wanted to know of the Senate what was the proper way for him to lreceive the clerk? The Senate was in uproar.

Any of us with wives would have known how to resolve it: turn it over t one—not more than one—of them, it not being sexist to realize that women have a knowledge of this matter. But that Senate had no women. Then the Senate was told that not just the clerk of the House but the entire House was at the door waiting to come in and what in the world was holding up the Senate? Someone shouted: “Bring in some chairs!” which is what any one of their wives would have said much earlier. In came the delegation with the president-elect, the hero of the Revolution, Washington surrounded by the red-haired New York chancellor Robert Livingston (ancestor of Louisiana congressman Robert Livingston who unsuccessfully sought to succeed Newt Gingrich), General Clinton, Generals Henry Knox and Arthur St. Clair, Baron von Steuben. Adams and Washington sat in chairs side by side. Then Adams arose and forgot mid-sentence what he had intended to say. Washington knew what he was to do and he arose, walked to the porch and opened the window where there was a crowd assembled outside and took the oath. Back in the room in his seat where he was deprived of hearing Washington so rooted was he in what he thought were the procedural demands of the time, Adams fretted.

Since that time, the Senate has been the lordly, more pontifical and agonizingly tedious chamber; the House has been truly the people’s house. When the founders designed the nature of the House, they clearly regarded it as of having more importance, which is why Madison wanted to run for the House rather than the Senate. And the framers gave members of the House a title that has continued to this day: United States Representative in Congress.

I am a child of the House, not the Senate. I came there as a lowly staffer an ink-stained wretch, a press secretary, when Sam Rayburn ruled (I remember being on an elevator when Rayburn with his entourage entered it, nodded curtly to the elevator operator and we all swiftly ascended to the fifth floor where Rayburn was headed. But we felt that was not pomposity on Rayburn’s part: that was due him as Speaker of the people’s house. Throughout my interest in public affairs, I have been more comfortable with the House. It has a democracy and proletarian-ism about it I love. That’s why after being around a long time—77 years and counting—I can say truthfully that I have known few men who justify the title United States Representative in Congress. One was a boss of mine, Dr. Walter Judd, a surgeon and former medical missionary to China who became ranking Republican on the Foreign Affairs committee, who steadfastly defended a tough position rather than d├ętente with the Soviet Union and China, which judgment was ratified by his receiving in his nineties from the hands of Ronald Reagan the highest medal possible for a president to confer: the Medal of Freedom.

The second is Henry Hyde, for a long time my Congressman and lifetime friend. He is entering his last year of service. Believe it or not, the representation in Congress from Illinois has not been all that awe-inspiring. Abraham Lincoln served only one term and because of his opposition to the Mexican war was so unpopular that he chose not to run for reelection. Yes, there have been three Speakers: Joseph Cannon, known as Uncle Joe, who was also referred to as Czar Cannon who because he single-handedly named committees, was a gruff old tyrant whose overwe’ening sense of power prompted a revolution among progressives including Fighting Bob LaFollette that democratized the House further. William Rainey was a nondescript New Deal supporter who didn’t last long. And the current Speaker, Dennis Hastert whose place in history has not yet been fully ascertained.

But of all the House lawmakers from Illinois, it is my belief that Henry Hyde was the greatest. Almost Churchillian, he crafted the Hyde amendment that took the sting of disunionity out of an ignoble Roe v. Wade decision that barred Americans from deciding this portentous issue. Like Churchill he became the greatest orator of the House for more than 30 years. And like Churchill, he mustered his strength to do a job he despised, and lead impeachment of a president of the United States, knowing full well that there was to be a price to pay from his enemies for what he did. Then when the House declined to give him a waiver so that he could serve out his chairmanship of Judiciary, he ran for chairman of International Affairs, against the opposition, let it be said of those who ran the House, and won, serving to move the House committee to equal stance with the Senate Foreign Relations committee on the conduct of international policy.

No doubt Henry Hyde will receive the award Walter Judd received, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I personally had wished this administration had named him ambassador to the Vatican, as Henry has been a distinguished—probably the most distinguished—Roman Catholic layman in the country. No, that went to a gentleman who had contributed a prodigious amount of money in the last campaign: thus it seems ever to have been.

There is little we can do to thank Henry Hyde for his generous service which has turned him from a dark-haired wonder of a speaker and lawmaker to a white-haired patriarch who journeys to the House floor in a wheel-chair. As a white haired one myself I thought the other day that there is a very little something I can do and that is to rank his photograph on my blog—allowing myself the ego trip of being shown with him. I know many if not most of you will join me in wishing the very best of health and continued service in other fields to the distinguished and venerable chairman of the House International Affairs committee. Think of his selfless service whenever you see his visage on this blog.

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