Henry Hyde: A 'Man of the House'

May those who love us, love us;
and those who don’t love us,
may God turn their hearts;
and if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
may He turn their ankles,
so we’ll know them by their limping.

That was, roughly, an old Irish toast that Rep. Henry Hyde (R.-Ill.) patiently taught me at the closing Platform Committee hearing on the eve of the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996.  Hyde had just finished presiding over the exhausting committee sessions that included intense debate over changing the party’s strong pro-life plank (it remained unchanged).  As drained as he was following the hearings, Hyde nevertheless made time to teach me the toast that I had heard him recite many times before — and which, he recalled, he had learned years before from Ronald Reagan’s older brother Neil.  

That was the Henry John Hyde I remembered upon learning that he had died of heart disease November 29 at age 83.  As busy as he was grappling with complex issues, the towering man with flowing silver hair, a booming voice and an ever-present cigar always had time for personal graciousness with a sense of humor.

To most conservatives, he was famous as the father of the amendment denying federal funding for abortions for low-income women.  To others, he was a forceful advocate of the anti-Communist Contra freedom fighters in Nicaragua during the 1980s.  During the nationally televised Iran-Contra hearings, Hyde forcefully made the case that no law was broken in attempting to channel Iranian money to help the Contras and, with characteristic wit, likened using the Ayatollah’s money to assist freedom fighters in the Western Hemisphere to the Founding Fathers’ getting assistance from the emperor of France.  In his final term in Congress, Hyde became chairman of the House International Relations Committee (now the Foreign Affairs Committee), where he began questioning U.S. involvement in global organizations such as the United Nations.  Even after he ended 32 years in Congress in ’06, Hyde voiced doubts about the Bush Administration’s commitment to spreading democracy, declaring in his final public speech that “the magic elixir for democracy alone” was not a surefire cure to the problems of any country (See HUMAN EVENTS, March 27, 2006.).

Hyde was familiar to most Americans as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee when it voted in 1998 to make Bill Clinton only the second President in U.S. history to be impeached.  Despite strong attacks from the liberal media and highly personal assaults, Hyde patiently guided a fractious panel to support articles of impeachment dealing with perjury and obstruction of justice.  Along with these violations of the law, Hyde, as committee chairman and then one of the House managers who presented the case in the Senate trial, declared that Clinton’s behavior meant “a loss of integrity, trust and respect” for the presidency.   

Born in Chicago and raised in a Democratic household, Hyde became a Republican after serving in the U.S. Navy in World War II and then earning degrees from Georgetown University and Loyola Law School.  Worries about communism, he said, led him to switch parties while a young trial lawyer.  He voted for Harry Truman for President in 1948 and cast his first Republican vote for Dwight Eisenhower four years later. 

In 1962, Hyde made his first run for office, challenging Democratic Rep. Roman Pucinski on the issues of anti-communism and “red-ink financing” of government.  Narrowly defeated in a heavily Democratic Chicago-based district, Hyde bounced back four years later to win a seat in the state house of representatives, rose to become majority leader and finally made it to Congress by winning an open seat in a suburban district in 1974.  Hyde’s 53% victory was particularly impressive in that he defeated a well-known Democrat, former Cook County State’s Attorney Ed Hanrahan, and that his win came in the so-called “Watergate Year” in which Republicans suffered one of their biggest-ever losses nationwide.

Although he broke with most conservatives on the issue of gun control by supporting the Brady Bill and he rankled others by vigorously opposing term limits for lawmakers, the Chicago area lawmaker was usually in the forefront of the conservative side on pivotal issues, both domestic and foreign.  Conservatives promoted him for the Senate from Illinois throughout the 1980s and there was even a boomlet from House colleagues in 1988 to make the magnetic Irish-Catholic conservative from suburban Chicago the vice presidential running mate to the more moderate George H.W. Bush.

But Hyde dismissed all talk of his leaving his beloved House of Representatives for a higher office.  He was a true man of the House, and paraphrasing Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s comments about the Army, Hyde said that “when I cross the river for the last time, my thoughts will be of the House, the House, the House.”