(Artvoice, 21 January 1999)

Gulliver Gets a Fifth

by Bruce Jackson

Lemuel Gulliver, British surgeon and captain of ships, went on four voyages: the first to Lilliput (where everybody was teensy), the second to Brobdingnag (where everybody was huge), the third to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnag, Glubbdubdrib and Japan (the characteristics of which I won't summarize), and the fourth to the Country of the Houyhnhnms (where the rational beings were horses and whinnied, and the animal Yahoos looked like humans and behaved bestially).

Henry ( a.k.a. Homewrecker) Hyde and his House Cronies are scripting a Fifth travel, this one to the land of the Bombinators (where the little is huge, the trivial major, and repetition makes truth).

Henry's Helpers

I don't want to lay this all on Hyde. He had strong support. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), for example, said, "What's a high crime? How about if an important person hurts somebody of low means? It's not very scholarly, but I think it's the truth." He's right, it's not scholarly, but it's hardly the truth: it's two questions, and a statement that's gibberish, as was much of his finger-pointing presentation.

And Charles T. Canady (R, Fla.), who said, "By his example, [Clinton] has set a dangerous and subversive standard of conduct. His calculated and stubbornly persistent misconduct while serving as President of the United States, has set a pernicious example of lawlessness, an example which by its very nature, subverts respect for the law. His perverse example has the inevitable effect of undermining the integrity of both the office of President and the administration of justice."

We are talking about a married guy who was trying to avoid being busted for getting his joint copped by the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time, right? Forty million dollars for the special persecutor and hundreds of hours of Congressional blathering and thousands of inches of newspaper typing and godzillions of hours of tv talk show jabbering, and that's what it is comes down to. How will any of us ever again say, "Don't make a Federal case out of it?" without everybody in the room degenerating into the giggles? These guys have given "Federal case" a bad name, which was not an easy thing to have done.

And Stephen E. Buyer (R. Ind), who said, " Are sexual harassment lawsuits, which were designed to vindicate legitimate and serious civil rights grievances of women across America, now somewhat less important than other civil rights? Which of our civil rights laws will fall next?"

That's Paula Jones he's talking about. You know, the one with the makeover and new nose and new car. Paula Jones is probably the most successful extortionist since Lucky Luciano: $850,000 tax free because she said she looked at the weenie of the governor of Arkansas without having first expressed an interest in same. There was never an iota of evidence that Paula Jones' career or psyche was harmed in any way by that putative event, which is why the judge threw her case out of court. She said she was suing to cure the damage to her reputation--but that damage occurred only because she went public and wanted money damages, and was being managed by a pair of wealthy virulent Clinton haters who bought her lawyers she otherwise would have known only from watching the six o'clock news in Little Rock.

What Henry Did

But it was Henry Hyde who supervised this sorry case through the House of Representatives and it was Henry Hyde who portioned out the assignments to the several House prosecutors in the Senate, and it was Henry Hyde who made the House prosecutors' closing argument.

He was the only one of the House prosecutors who didn't have an assistant constantly placing and replacing charts behind him as he spoke, like those women in swimsuits who circuit a boxing ring between rounds. He was his own display.

Hyde pulled out all the stops. "Pull out all the stops" is a term from organ playing. When you play your organ and pull out all the stops, the organ makes a huge amount of noise. The term has nothing to do with music; it's just about volume.

Henry Hyde is 74 years old. He's been in the House since 1974. He represents Chicago suburbs and he's the man who, until the present impeachment action, was best known for keeping poor women from getting birth control advice or abortions. He's the "Hyde Amendment" Hyde.

He repeated certain phrases a lot, the way sacred liturgy does. "Sacred honor" was one. "This case is a test," he said early in his summation, "of whether what the founding fathers described as 'sacred honor' still has meaning in our time, 222 years after those two words, 'sacred honor,' were inscribed in our country's birth certification, our national charter of freedom, our Declaration of Independence."

How appropriate that Hyde should have begun with a statement that was not the least bit true. The Declaration of Independence describes nothing as sacred honor. The words appear only at the very end, in the pledge of the signers to stick together in their revolutionary endeavor. And that indeed is what the Republicans in the house did: they stuck together in their endeavor, which was to undo a presidential election.

He used "covenant of trust" even more. "Covenant of trust." That's like what God promised Noah, right? No more water and here's the Rainbow Sign. Covenant of Trust. Wow.

Mostly, he kept evoking our noble military dead: he didn't name the War of 1812 or the Spanish-American War, but I think he got all the others. He said things "would have been clear to those who once pledged their sacred honor to the cause of liberty. The answer would have been clear to those who crafted the world's most enduring written Constitution." He warned us about breaking faith "with our ancestors from Bunker Hill, Lexington, Concord, to Flanders fields, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Panmunjom, Saigon and Desert Storm." (My ancestors are from Minsk. As Henry Hyde spoke, I felt included in American History as never before.)

In case the senators were too dumb to see the big picture, he told them that "Political prisoners know that this is about the rule of law, the great alternative to arbitrary and unchecked state powers. The families of executed dissidents know that this is about the rule of law, the great alternative to the lethal abuse of power by the state. Those yearning for freedom know this is about the rule of law, the hard-won structure by which men and women can live by their God-given dignity and secure their God-given rights in ways that serve the common good."

I hoped he'd give some citations for all of that--like which political prisoners and bereaved families of dissidents were brooding about Clinton and Congress, given that Nelson Mandela and the UN had made such a show of support for Clinton--but he didn't.

He went ever higher. He invoked the "Ten Commandments and the Mosaic law," the Magna Carta, the year 1776. And he even remind the Senate that "we're the heirs of Roman law, the first legal system." (So much for the Babylonians, the ancient Jews, the Chinese).

His close was so wonderfully wrought it would have served for the dedication of a new national cemetery, the gloss on a declaration of war, the speech at the funeral of a five-star general killed in combat while trying to save crippled children: "Go to the Vietnam Memorial on the national mall and press your hands against the 58,000--a few of the 58,000 names carved into that wall and ask yourself how we can redeem the debt we owe all those who purchased our freedom with their lives. How do we keep faith with them? I think I know. We work to make this country the kind of America they were willing to die for. That's an America where the idea of sacred honor still has the power to stir men's souls. My solitary, solitary hope is that a hundred years from today people will look back at what we've done and say, 'They kept the faith.' I'm done."

Done he was. "I'm done." Not "we're done," not "the presentation is done." Just "I'm done." Me: Henry Hyde. Henry Hyde pirouetting on the stage of the democratic equivalent of regicide.

I can remember no other statement by a major political figure that so shamelessly trivialized death in war. It was, au fond, grand political rhetoric, it was utter and vile nonsense.

The Line in the Sand

Afterwards, the press interviewed senators of the Republican and Democrat persuasions for their comments on Hyde's performance. The Republicans--quel surprise--were uniformly praising. Not one of the Democrats criticized the speech directly; every one of them talked about something else. No surprise there either: who is going to argue with those American heroes in dark graves across the river in Arlington Cemetery, with Charlton Heston getting the Ten Commandments, with a score of sacred honors and covenants of trust?

Hyde's performance was brilliant. He managed to deflect our attention from the incident at hand and get us instead deciding whether or not we would stand with the angels of history. He drew a line in the sand with the saber of noble sacrifice and divine sanction. Who but a rogue or scoundrel or atheist swine would stand on the wrong side of that line? What's the question we're really voting on? Who cares? Bang the drum, raise the horns, strike up the band!

copyright 1999 Bruce Jackson

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email: bjackson@buffalo.edu