Henry Hyde: A True Statesman and a Constitutional Steward

-By Frank Salvato

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” – Congressional Oath of Office

One of the greatest responsibilities bestowed upon elected officials is that of constitutional stewardship. While each elected official has a duty to represent his constituents in a faithful manner, each swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution. We, the citizens of this Republic, through democratic elections, entrust this responsibility to those we elect and expect them to abide by the tenets mandated by the Constitution and to honor their oath to preserve it for future generations. Few have executed that oath more fully than Congressman Henry J. Hyde of Illinois.

Politics in the United States circa 2000 has evolved into what can be legitimately described as a cauldron of special interest narcissism. More often than not, those elected to office are more committed to their political parties and personal political well-being than they are to faithfully representing their constituencies. Because of this manipulation, the massaging of the truth – political spinning – has become acceptable; it has become status quo. While every elected official condemns the manipulation of truth in the political arena very few actually disassociate themselves from the practice. Where, it is said, there is honor among thieves, it would seem that there is little, if any, among America’s political class.

It was for his refusal to compromise neither his oath of office nor the trust of his constituents that Henry Hyde stood out amongst his counterparts in Congress. I can say this because Mr. Hyde served as my congressman for many years and I am proud to have voted for him.

Professionally, his door was always open to his constituents, his attention toward their concerns genuine in nature. Where most politicians view their constituents as entities to “handle,” Mr. Hyde served his constituents as a realist, helping when he could and explaining the intricacies of tough situations and providing guidance and assistance when he couldn’t effect the desired outcome regarding their concerns.

In his private life, Mr. Hyde was a genuine human being, who, personal feelings aside, masterfully advocated the will of his constituents. By deed and word he promoted a more civilized political environment, one devoid of smear, innuendo and personal attacks; an atmosphere where your personal life remained out-of-bounds unless your personal actions came to interfere with your professional life.

Like any of us, Mr. Hyde, while understanding that the “political game” is a vicious one, was affected by many of his detractors’ personal attacks. I can say these things because aside from Mr. Hyde being my congressman for many years, my family was privileged to be able to call him friend.

I remember being at one of his last official functions as a congressman, a “thank you” event of sorts for his workers, constituents and supporters. He told a story about being on vacation around the time of the Clinton impeachment proceedings. He spoke of relaxing in a public setting, reading, when a woman walked up to him and asked, politely, if he was Henry Hyde. The congressman looked up from his reading and answered that yes, in fact he was one in the same. The woman’s face turned from pleasant to maniacal with contempt and she said, “I hate you for what you are doing to Bill Clinton.”

I don’t think I will ever forget the sadness I heard in Mr. Hyde’s voice at that moment. “I hate you for what you are doing to Bill Clinton.”

It was at that very second that I realized intellectual discourse in American politics was truly endangered, if not dead, that perception trumped facts in the political arena and that truth had become an inconsequential component of life for those elected to public office.

Regarding the impeachment, Henry Hyde was known to have stressed that the proceedings were centered on the rule of law and the fact that the president had perjured himself under oath, violating not only the law but his constitutional requirement to uphold the law as well. It wasn’t, he declared, about “gotcha politics” or sexual escapades, a notion that Mr. Hyde’s detractors, political smear-merchants and the agenda-driven media tried to play up.

Throughout the impeachment proceedings Mr. Hyde upheld the rule of law, faithfully discharged the duties of his office and honored his responsibility to the United States Constitution. His thanks for a thankless job came in the form of an emotionally charged Clinton sycophant declaring, “I hate you for what you are doing to Bill Clinton,” when the facts bear that Clinton, literally, did it to himself.

Through it all – and throughout his tenure in the US House of Representatives – Mr. Hyde was held in high regard by his fellow Congressmen, both Republican and Democrat alike. He was recognized as an intellectual leader and one who held the responsibility of constitutional stewardship as the greatest responsibility bestowed upon a federally elected official. So too, he understood it as an honor to be elected to do so.

On November 5, 2007, Congressman Henry J. Hyde was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a president can bestow upon an American citizen. On November 29, 2007 this American patriot passed away.

The United States and we, her citizens, have lost not only a statesman and a political intellectual, but someone who put love of country and the well-being of our Constitution ahead of political self-interest and party loyalty. We have lost an American champion and patriot and we are less for it. Personally, my family has lost a friend and I am very sad for that fact.

Related Reading/Viewing:

Congressional Oath of Office

Former Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde’s Last Public Appearance

Henry J. Hyde, Biographical Directory of the US Congress
Frank Salvato is the managing editor for The New Media Journal . He serves at the Executive Director of the Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan, 501(C)(3) research and education initiative. His pieces are regularly featured in over 100 publications both nationally and internationally. He has appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, and is a regular guest on The Right Balance with Greg Allen on the Accent Radio Network, as well as an occasional guest on numerous radio shows coast to coast. He recently partnered in producing the first-ever symposium on the threat of radical Islamist terrorism in Washington, DC. His pieces have been recognized by the House International Relations Committee and the Japan Center for Conflict. He can be contacted at oped@newmediajournal.us

Copyright Publius Forum 2001