Friday, November 30, 2007

RIP-ing Henry “Nothing to” Hyde

Despite his early and important contribution to the pro-life movement, unlike my colleagues, it is with great difficulty I eulogize longtime Illinois congressman Henry Hyde who died Thursday at the age of 84 ... and here's why.

During President Clinton's impeachment trial in 1998, it was revealed that Dr. Jekyll—I mean Mr. Hyde (who was also the unabashed leader of the Clinton Impeachment Movement) had had (during the 1960s) a nearly four-year adulterous affair of his own. Dismissing the story until the Sun Times came out with pictures of Hyde and the Hairdresser, Henry then changed his tune by saying it was merely "dirty politics," that it should have nothing to do with the impeachment process, concluding "the statute of limitations has long since passed on my youthful indiscretion."

This is where Henry lost me forever. Up until then, I had idolized Hyde, as both a family man and a Catholic politician with convictions, but at that moment I felt like Jimmy Stewart's character in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when he found out his hero and mentor, Sen. Joe Paine, was a crooked deal-cutter like (almost) everyone else in Congress.

Yes, conservatives can bring out the hollow argument that the Clinton impeachment was not about Bill having sex with Monica Lewinsky, but his lying about it under oath. Yet, I'm sure Henry knew that without a juicy issue (for example, if Bill pretended he remembered Hillary's anniversary under oath, no one would have cared), the impeachment process would have never gone forward. But Henry's flippant "youthful indiscretion" comment sealed the deal of Hyde's infidelity insincerity. For Hyde's affair was not a quick, post-college fling, but a four-year choice that occurred while he was in his forties and had already been married for over fifteen years. And, of course, committing adultery is one thing, but not apologizing? (Perfect) love may mean never having to say you are sorry, but sin is not. A heartfelt apology here could not only have saved Henry's Hyde but his career as well. Instead Hyde finished out his terms as a second-rate conservative, with not only Henry's much-desired Clinton impeachment derailed, but his own moral status in Congress greatly diminished.

I will always be grateful to Henry for the "Hyde Amendment"—the bill he sponsored in 1976—that banned federal funding for abortions and was the first big post-Roe-v-Wade pro-life political victory. But I cannot agree with the Chicago Tribune editorial epitaph, "The Principled Henry Hyde." Henry lost that distinction not only when he committed adultery, but when he failed to show public contrition for it. Heck—even Bill did THAT much. And when his time comes, you are not likely to find the word "Principled" on the headstone of one William Jefferson Clinton!


dbonhoeffer said...

I'm sorry for your loss? I am sorry you lost a hero, I never knew much about Mr. Hyde, I grew up in the late 90's/00's...what can I say. But I can empathize with you. If one of my political hero's, say Mike Huckabee, were to do what Hyde did, I would be devastated. I saw that site and noticed you put me on the blog list, thanks. By the way, you can't see the blog list link on the front page because Huckabee's picture is in the way, I just though you might like to know. See ya around.

Mike McLaren said...

I was born and raised a Catholic. As a young man I drifted away from my faith and did not return for thirty years. During those thirty years I did many things that required forgiveness. I am blessed that I have a family and more important a Lord and Savior that forgave me.

Oh, by the way, thank you so much for pointing out the splinter in Mr. Hyde's eye.

Tom O'Toole said...

Mike - Is a 4-year affair a splinter? I wonder if Henry's (or any) wife would think so ...

Yes, I did lots of bad stuff too as a youth ... so it was more his flippant "youthful indiscretion" comment that made him lose hero status in my eyes, that considering the gravity of this sin, didn't sound all that sincere, did it? Again, I wonder if his (or any) wife would think so.

Tom O'Toole said...

dbonhoeffer - Thanks for your comment ... unlike Mike McLaren, you understood the fact that while a fallen hero doesn't cause a Christian to lose faith, he still takes it hard. While we don't have to worry about this so much with "Huck," we still have to pray Mike maintains his faith during the sometimes un-Christian exchanges and charges that is the primaries.

Mike McLaren said...

Mr. O'Toole, your insight into my understanding is both breathtaking and presumptious.

So it is right that you are forgiven for your youthful "bad stuff" but not Mr. Hyde because he used an expression you didn't like.
It's not about YOU or if YOU lost a hero. It's about whither he sought forgiveness from his wife and God. Or perhaps you can share with us your insight into that as well.

Anonymous said...

Mike - I've posted your most recent comment thinking Tom would be able to quickly respond to it, but he has been working both of his jobs for the last few days, and hasn't been able to.

But I'd like to add some of my own thoughts regarding Henry Hyde. Although I'm disappointed in Henry Hyde in the same way that Tom is, I was even more crushed when H.H. was up for re-election and his 4-page glitzy campaign brochure neglected to mention anything whatsoever about his pro-life stance. There was not even ONE word for life. Now Mike Huckabee has gotten up and said plenty about making abortion illegal, not afraid to attach himself to this issue. That's how Henry was originally. He was my hero too! Whether Henry asked forgiveness for his sins from his wife or through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, well, we just don't know. To our knowledge, he did not ask forgiveness from his fans and supporters. I was brought to the Catholic Church in big part through their belief in purgatory. It made the utmost sense to me. So I like Tom's article because it allows people to see that Henry, although doing some great things for the pro-life cause, was not a saint, and needs prayers, wherever he may be. The Church hierarchy even asked Catholics to pray for Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she died. We are not to assume anything on a soul's particular destination they said. Do you agree with that?

(Mrs. Fighting Irish Thomas)

Tom O'Toole said...

Mike - The difference between Hyde and Augustine (and all sinner-saints) is that Augustine confessed publicly and Hyde snidely refused to do so ... which cost him in many pro-life eyes, not just mine. As a public figure, he is obliged to answer charges publicly, aside from what he confides to a priest.

Jack H said...

It seems a bit naive to me, to have heroes in an unqualified, or uncritical way. We need to compartmentalize them. Outside the field of their excellence, how can we expect excellence? We'd like for them to have admirable character. But we have admired them for their public accomplishments, not for the men they really are. We don't know who they really are. We hardly know ourselves.

We understand how fragile we are -- or we don't understand. But part of humility is to judge, when we must, justly, rather than only with harshness. Wisdom understands balance. Contempt is a perversion of pride, which is a perversion of self-worth.

My point? We we suffer enough disappointments, we grow either bitter, or compassionate. We understand that forgiveness is keyed to repentance, but we also understand that we are not the judges of a man's heart. That Hyde positioned himself publicly a certain way, in the context of a political feud, is one thing. We might have liked to see an example of maturity and contrition, in that context. But he wanted to win a fight. In doing so, he lost the admiration of some. So be it. He lost the fight as well. Alas. But we have no data on the state of his soul, from this. His marriage apparently survived.

If we want moral excellence, let's not count on politicians. All they do is make laws. Not the same thing.