title(“Henry Hyde’s Moral Universe: Where More Than Time and Space Are Warped”)

Common Courage Press

Review by Larry Everest 

The New York Times (8/31/99) reports that "in the early campaign for the 2000 elections, the rite of political piety has moved far beyond the sacramental photo opportunity. The candidates are engaging in ‘God talk’ that is more explicit, more intimate and more pervasive than at any time in recent decades."

When impeachment was in full swing, and one dinosaur politician after another trooped before the cameras to trumpet righteous indignation, no one threw more elbows to push to the front of this "moral values" ratpack than the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde. With the "rule of law" as his mantra and the sanctity of the Constitution his refrain, Hyde helped turn a sex scandal into the second impeachment in U.S. history.

The media briefly noted a few egregious instances of Hyde’s hypocrisy — his extra-marital affair and support for official lying during Iran-Contra — but generally gave him a free ride. He was portrayed, as Dennis Bernstein and Leslie Kean put it, as a cross between "Socrates, Clarence Darrow and Mother Teresa."

Their book, Henry Hyde’s Moral Universe is a welcome relief from this suffocating fog of adulation, distortion, and amnesia. Bernstein and Kean detail the lies, doubletalk, and cruelty Hyde has wrought for over 20 years. The authors not only document Hyde’s "new standard for hypocrisy," they give voice to his victims like Rosie Jiminez, the first woman who died as a result of the anti-abortion Hyde Amendment, and Rita Barker, who lost a loved one thanks to death penalty legislation supported by Hyde.

Henry’s House of Horrors

Many are familiar with the infamous Hyde Amendment of 1976, which cut off all federal funding for abortions and meant injury and even death from botched abortions for many poor women, and drastically altered lives for many more. What many don’t know, is that while championing the "right to life" and the rule of law, Hyde has publicly defended the lawbreaking of anti-abortion terrorists such as Joseph Scheidler. At Scheidler’s 1998 trial, Hyde was asked if he would vouch for someone who proclaimed they wouldn’t "obey the law." Hyde responded, "If the law of the land is immoral and condones the killing of unborn children, I think that’s heroic."

Another chapter in Hyde’s record of "upholding the rule of law" that never made the front pages was his role in the Savings & Loan scandal of the 1980s. Hyde was on the Board of Clyde Federal Savings and Loan in the early 1980s, while a member of Congress. Along with many other S&Ls, Clyde’s sleazy dealing led it to bankruptcy. The Resolution Trust Corporation of America, the federal agency created by Congress to manage the S&L bailout, filed suit against Clyde’s Board, including Henry Hyde, for "gross negligence, mismanagement, breach of fiduciary and other duties, breach of contract and other wrongful and improper conduct." When an $850,000 settlement was finally reached, Hyde refused to pay his share. Later, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation admitted giving the Congressman a special deal.

Hyde was also a key player in suppressing exposure of Contra drug-running in the 1980s (which helped him win the CIA Seal Medallion for his "tremendous service" and "sustained outstanding support"). Bernstein and Kean expose how, in the midst of the Iran-Contra scandal, Hyde issued a fraudulent memo claiming that an exhaustive investigation turned up no evidence that the Contra leadership was involved with drug trafficking and no link was found between any government agency and drug trafficking by the Contras or anyone else.

Hyde’s love for the rule of law came into a little more focus when a secret plan developed by North, FEMA, and others, to suspend the Constitution (i.e., declare martial law) in the event of a "national crisis" (such as "violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad") was revealed during the Iran-Contra hearings. While testimony on the subject was squelched, and North flatly denied any involvement, Henry Hydes defended the plans: "There is nothing in them bizarre and strange–it is prudent planning for any eventuality."

Hyde recently helped sponsor the so-called Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The AEDPA severely limits federal court reviews of state convictions and speeds up executions. It has already resulted in the execution of Tom Thompson in 1998, the first person executed in the U.S. on the basis of a trial deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals. Along with unknown numbers on death row facing execution due to the AEDPA, the AEDPA is one of the legal roadblocks in the battle to win a new trial for Mumia Abu Jamal.

It says much about the political climate in the U.S. that near-fascist politicians such as Hyde are promoted as "moral" leaders. As Bernstein and Kean warn, it would be "wrong and dangerous to conclude that Hyde’s moral agenda has failed just because impeachment was defeated."

Dennis Bernstein is an associate editor of Pacific News Service, and the host/producer of "Flashpoints," a daily news magazine on Berkeley’s KPFA radio. Leslie Kean is associate producer/host for "Flashpoints," co-author of Burma’s Revolution of the Spirit and director of the Burma Project U.S.A, a human rights and media advocacy group.

Larry Everest is a correspondent for the Revolutionary Worker and author of Behind the Poison Cloud: Union Carbide’s Bhopal Massacre.