HONORS 195: Rhetoric of Impeachment; Fall, 1999, John Dewey Honors Program, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Vermont
Alfred C. Snider, Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics
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Henry Hyde was preaching to a small constituency during the Impeachment trial. Though the information spread through the internet and mass media, those who supported Hydes views remained the minority throughout the Impeachment process, and if anything, his support only decreased. Because Hyde felt that Clintons lying under oath about his relationships with Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones was morally wrong, he took steps to punish Clinton for those actions. However other people, from all across the political spectrum, felt differently, and due to the divisive nature of issue, the only people who listened to and supported Hyde was the small conservative Republican constituency that had elected him and the other House Managers initially. For Hyde his core Catholic beliefs formed the basis for his political agenda. Those consisted of Catholic, family values issues, primarily pro-life ones. For example, he was on the Advisory Board of the Illinois Citizens for Life.
Therefore the way that Hyde related to his audience was through a mutual agreement that family values, especially monogomy between spouses, were very important concerns, amplified by their percieved degredation of American culture. Clinton had a wife and a daughter, and during both campaigns ran as a women friendly president. Therefore the House Managers, who were all similar in ideology to Hyde conspired together to make the Impeachment a political statement.
There were so many other reasons that they wanted to convict him and ruin is career, ranging from that fact that he had smoked pot to needing to discredit the Democrats before the 2000 election, that the Managers pursued Clinton ruthlessly. Often they were vindictive and bitter, as exemplified by Hydes rejection of the Joint Resolution of Censure which would have been politically advantageous to the Republicans offensively and diverted the thrashing they later took in the polls. However during his closing argument before the Senate, Hyde spoke venerably and grandfatherly, and limped up to the podium with the support of a cane, as if America had wounded him.
It was during this speech that Hyde introduced his Henry V analogy, comparing himself to Henry V and the Managers to the English longbowmen as they prepared to die in defense of their country. Hyde saw himself and the Managers as protecting America from Clinton and what would happen if he was acquitted. If Clinton won, the president would have defeated Americas saviors and snaked his way out of punishment and justice, forever damning American culture and making a mockery of its system of justice. He even called the process a culture war. Another interesting point about that day at Agincourt was that the English triumphed over the French, though at a great cost. It was very apparent the extent to which this campaign hurt Hyde and the other Managers and the Republican Party as a whole, and Hyde hoped his experience to parallel Henrys on yet another level. Henry V was also widely considered Englands greatest king, and due to the analogy the noble sacrifice he was willing to take for his homeland lent moral and persuasive weight to the sacrifice Hyde saw himself taking for his country.
In order to get away from the invasion of privacy accusation being used by the White House, Hyde made many references to how Clinton was not being prosecuted for his private indiscretions, but his public crimes. In both his opening and closing remarks he explained to Congress that they were not deciding whether Clinton had had an affair but on whether Clinton had committed an impeachable offense, namely whether he had committed perjury before the Grand Jury or had obstructed justice. This was important for Hyde for two reasons. First he needed to get the focus away from sex because the Republicans were losing that battle. Many voters did not believe that what Clinton did in his personal life was anyones business or something that he should necessarily be impeached over. After all, many people, especially Americans have cheated worse than Clinton and they did not want to see their president being publicly skewered for his human weaknesses. In fact, the Republicans lost much support over the sex issue, because voters instead punished them, backlshing against men such as Hyde, for pursuing Clinton too far into his bedroom (or the oval office or wherever). This was simply a purely rhetorical tactic to bridge the ideological gap between Hyde and those non-Impeachers and undecided (of which there were few)sitting in judgment of Clinton:
Despite massive and relentless efforts to change the subject, the case before you Senators is not about sexual misconduct or adultery - those are private acts and none of our business.
It is not even a question of lying about sex.
The matter before this body is a question of lying under oath. This is a public act.
The matter before you is a question of the willful, premeditated deliberate corruption of the nation's system of justice, through Perjury and Obstruction of Justice. These are public acts, and when committed by the chief law enforcement officer of the land, the one who appoints the Attorney General and nominates the Judiciary - these do become the concern of Congress. (Hyde, 1/16/99)
The majority would not vote Clinton out of office for his sexual acts. However Hydes argument was that what Clinton was being tried for was perjury and obstruction of justice, which may have been as a result of trying to cover up his affairs, but was not the affairs themselves. Therefore the truth to the reports about Clintons cheating had to be ascertained for anyone to know whether or not he was lying. But he was being charged for the lying, not the sex.
Though Hyde lent such eloquence to his position, there are specific reasons to reject the reasons Hyde gave and therefore all of his rhetoric, based upon his past. The reason to reject the self-righteous attitude he took in terms of Clintons cheating is because for eight years including some time in Congress, he was having an affair with a married woman. What discredits his rule of law argument is the stance he took during the trial of Senator Dan Crane and during the Iran-Contra scandal.
Eight years of his married life Hyde enjoyed having an affair with a married woman named Cherie Snodgrass. The relationship even continued for two years after Hydes wife found out about it, which incidentally was the same time that Cherie found out that that there even was a Mrs. Hyde. How could a man who held a very public seven year affair while in office even begin to cast judgment on someone who traveled the same path, much less in the name of family values? The whole Snodgrass family blamed Hyde for their split, which occurred because Cheries husband found out and Cherie wanted to stay with Hyde who encouraged her to do so:
On September 16, 1998, Hyde issued the following statement: "The statute of limitations has long since passed on my youthful indiscretions. Suffice it to say Cherie Snodgrass and I were good friends a long, long time ago. After Mr. Snodgrass confronted my wife, the friendship ended, and my marriage remained intact. The only purpose for this being dredged up now is an obvious attempt to intimidate me and it wont work. I intend to fulfill my constitutional duty and deal judiciously with the serious felony allegations presented to Congress in the Starr report." (Bernstein, 54)
I cannot believe he could muster the gall to talk about his affair and Clinton in the same sentence, and it sounds like this was where Clinton got the idea for his "relationship with Mrs. Lewinsky that was inappropriate" (Clinton, 98) remark from. Hyde was specifically saying that he should not be faced with this relationship from his past, which was literally the evidence Hyde condemned Clinton with. Also, despite this admission, Hyde still felt himself able to "deal judiciously with the serious felony allegations" he was accusing Clinton of. By that standard Clinton should still have been capable of remaining in office and he would have been able to concentrate on his duties better, and just maybe the US would not have started about three separate wars. Using the policy maker cost benefit analysis framework, was it worth it?
In 1982 fellow Illinois Republican Rep. Dan Crane was accused of having an affair with his 17 year old page. Crane confessed and it seemed he was going to be kicked out of the House until Hyde came to his rescue:
We sit here not to characterize the crime, the breach, the transgression, because we all know that the transgression is stipulated as reprehensible He is embarrassed, he is humiliated, he is displaced It will be with him, and it will be with his family as long as they live Mr. Speaker, I suggest to the members that compassion and justice are not antithetical; they are complimentary. The Judeo-Christian tradition says, Hate the sin and love the sinner. We are on record as hating the sin I think it is time to love the sinner. (Bernstein, 69).
First of all, Hyde obviously felt that Crane too was still capable of serving in office, despite that what he did was 2-5 hard time for statutory rape in some states. Hyde, Clinton, and Crane had all committed adultery, and yet according to Hydes scale, Clintons crime weighed heavier for some reason (though it would seem that Clintons was actually the most harmless offense, because Hyde had a public affair with a married woman for eight years resulting in the break up of her family, and Crane had had sex with a minor, as compared to Clintons covert affairs). And once again Hyde used the argument that the effects of exposure were punishment enough for "him [Crane], and it will be with his family as long as they live" and that warranted "compassion and justice," which required bending Hydes precious rule of law to protect a fellow Republican. Whatever, right?
Perhaps most interesting of all however, was that thanks to Hydes eloquence Crane was merely censured. This means that rather than being kicked out of Congress, Crane was merely verbally reprimanded. During the Impeachment trial of Clinton Hyde had damned censure because, " censure would undermine the separation of powers by assuming a power not enumerated in the Constitution," (Hyde, 12/12/98), and yet he advocated it for Crane. Doh! I wonder why.
Because the rule of law was apparently so important to Hyde, it is necessary to examine Hydes role in the Iran-Contra scandal, where top Reagan officials were accused of having broken the law by selling weapons to Iran and using that money to fund the Contra rebels overthrow of the Communist Sandanista government in Nicaragua.
Hyde was quick to defend those such as Oliver North and President Ronald Reagan. In 1987 he said, "All of us at some time confront conflicts between rights and duties, between choices that are evil and less evil, and one hardly exhausts moral imagination by labeling every untruth and every deception an outrage." (Ridgeway, 12/22/98). Though many people obviously supported Hyde, not all of those supporters later skewered Clinton with "Lying poisons justice. If we are to defend justice and the rule of law, lying must have consequences." (Ridgeway, 12/22/98).
Initially Hydes involvement was that of any party Republican-to back Reagans policies-and Hyde followed that rule to the letter. However as the situation in Latin America became more involved, so too did Hyde. North was forced to ask some Congressmen for permission to acquire illegal funds to supplement the money from the illegal Iranian arms deals all in order to support the Contras revolution against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Hyde enthusiastically went along with this plan even though it blatantly circumvented the recently passed Boland Amendment which said that no United States security agency could aid the Contras, and here was Hyde consenting to help the National Security Council gain funds illegally.
Whats more was that in March 1985 Americas Watch, a human rights organization, released a report detailing brutal and sadistic crimes being committed by the Contras. These were the same people Hyde was calling "freedom fighters," (Bernstein, 130). Why did he do that? Simply because they were trying to overthrow a Communist government, and like so many other Republicans at the time, Hyde hated Communism and saw it as a growing threat to American security that needed to be destroyed at all costs. There was also the Contra drug trafficking in both Central America and the US that was being enabled with government airplanes and visas, and the traffickers were being encouraged to sell their cocaine in the US for more money. These were well documented facts in CIA reports as well as being conscious choices to deal with drug smugglers by those making decisions such as North. Hyde himself went out of his way to foil the Congressional investigation of the drug connection by not asking questions of the Contra leaders and defending a false report by a House Iran-Contra investigator that stated that no evidence of Contra trafficking could be discovered.
The way that Hyde chose to defend North was particularly interesting given that it was basically the complete opposite of what he said during the 98 Impeachment. There were two main ways Hyde defended North after the scandal broke. Hyde defended him in speech after speech and led the movement to grant North immunity, after the Independent Council gave very clear reasons that it would make conviction near impossible. The eloquence that Hyde mustered in defense of North and the aura of moral righteousness that persuaded so many of his colleagues to acquit could be seen in his response to the Democratic report on Iran-Contra:
We have had a disconcerting and distasteful whiff of moralism and institutional self-righteousness in these hearings. Too little have these committees acknowledged that the Executive may well have had the clearer vision of what was at stake in Central America. Too little have we acknowledged that our own convolutions have made the task of the Executive even more difficult
In 13 years of service in the House it has seemed to me that Congress is usually more eager to assert authority than to accept responsibility; more ready to criticize than to constructively propose; more comfortable in the public relations limelight than in the murkier grayness of the real world where choices must often be made, not between relative goods, but between bad and worse. (Bernstien, 121).
Could Hydes indictment of Congress attacking North for breaking the law not have been directly applied to the way that Hyde and his colleagues were acting during the Lewinsky scandal? Just as in 1978, in 1998 there was a "distasteful whiff of moralism," and Congress "was more eager to assert authority than to accept responsibility" in that Hyde felt that he could sit in judgment of someone who had done nothing more than follow in Hydes footsteps. Even censure would have been a constructive proposition in comparison to what they put Clinton through. In addition, the Impeachment quickly became a media circus, and the ones who spent the most time in on TV were the House Managers, all of whom made closing statements during the trial.
Finally, the murky reality was that the situation Clinton was faced with was a sticky one. At the point where Clinton was not having moral concerns about his affairs, and did not think that he was a bad person, he needed to do something to protect himself and his career. So long as people believe in their own values or necks, they will make those "real world choices" (to perjure or obstruct justice???) so that they can continue with their moral lives.
The most interesting parallel between these two incidents is that both were considered constitutional crises by the antagonists. During the Iran-Contra scandal the issue was whether someone could break the law to do what they felt was ultimately right, or did the ends justify the means, and during the Clinton Impeachment it was whether the Executive should be allowed to abuse his power to protect himself, for whatever reason, forever destroying the system of checks and balances. In the former Hyde played down the level of concern about the constitutionality and in the latter highlighted the issue in both his opening and closing remarks before the Senate and many times in between. In reality both scandals boiled down to the same issue of obstruction of justice, though in which case the exception should be made was up to personal politics. Hyde defended North as a crusader striving to do what was in the best interests of America and democracy, with no personal gain involved (though North was later convicted of siphoning funds for himself) and yet the consequences were overwhelmingly more disastrous, while in 1998 Clinton lied to protect his political career and there would not have been (as m)any consequences (the moral degredation of America maybe?) except that Henry made a big fuss and here we are today.
Yes, here we are today, literally on the doorstep of the Millenium, the 21st century, and after a traumatic Impeachment that one reporter calls "Washington PMS (post-Monica syndrome)"(Day 2/17/99).Besides the hackneyed reasons of the culture war between WWII veterans and draft dodgers, and the surrounding discourses about the invasion of an individuals private and personal life by government, employment, and the media, there is the other issue of who is going to be in power on January 1, 2000.
The Honorable Henry Hyde has set a bad precedent when he further entrenched the stereotype of the utterly corrupt politician. I am a 19 year old registered Democrat, and maybe out of a sense of over-compensation I thought that Hyde had been getting a bad rap, and so that is why I chose to research him. There was no way, I thought, that someone that old and that friendly, and that silly looking could be so bad. But I was also aware of the stereotype of the old, bitter, conservative Republican, so I proceeded carefully.
After much time devoted and research done I say that Hydes discourse was bad for society, undercut the mutual understanding between audience and speaker, decreased the audiences capacity to choose, demobilized them, and nullified them. As Karlyn Kohrs Campbell wrote in 1972, "The critic can make judgements of rhetorical strategies in terms of the rhetorical conventions they establish and the rhetorical expectations they create in an audience. The rhetoric of any period sets up ethical norms for what is acceptable, appropriate, and good" (35). By using morality arguments to create his paradigm, about how valuable the rule of law was, how important family values were, and why people should vote on his partisan side, Hyde set himself up as a model, and put himself centerstage. To his credit (if you believe in it) he has a history of pro life activism consisting of passing his landmark Hyde Amendment in 1978, which capped the use of federal Medicaid money for abortion. Since the trial ended Hyde, with as little regard for the mess he left behind as ever, has returned to his pet issue, passing the Child Custody Protection Act in June 1999 which prevented minors from crossing state lines to get abortions without consent. Some would call him an ideologue, a leader in the Pro-Life movement. A fellow Republican called him,"A wonderful statesman for our party."(Cooper, 3/6/98). However because Hyde is such a bad role model for politicians, based upon his lack of guiding values and the fact that as a senior Republican he sets such a bad example for all politicians in the status quo and to come, his discourse must be rejected. Even in principle, he just contradicted himself with so much, spitting all over the rooms he spoke in. The extreme partisanship that characterizes Hyde is also not what future politicians should be seeing. The result was important legislation being killed, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Future politicians need to learn to overcome partisanship, not engage in it.
His history of partisan double standards and his own seven year affair exposed Hyde for the hypocrite he was. Where did he get off having a public affair (Saturday nights on the town in Chicago) for eight years with a married woman with three children behind his wifes back, which resulted in his mistresses family breaking up, in an account that sounded suspiciously like one of those wife predators. Hyde biographers Dennis Bernstein and Leslie Kean described the young, married, stud, "Hyde already had a reputation as a womanizer." (57). Hyde was 37 when he began his "youthful indiscretions" in 1961. You decide.
Next was the Crane scandal, in which fellow Illinois Representative Dan Crane confessed to sleeping with a 17 year old employee. Hyde defended Crane and did not quite perform his constitutional duty by supporting Cranes censure, a bipartisan proposal that Hyde rejected during the Clinton Impeachment Trial.
Finally there was the stance he took during the Iran-Contra scandal, defending the Constitution violators, not to mention the Savings and Loans scandal he was involved in during the 1980s. What it all boils down to is that the Honorable Mr. Hyde from Illinois is a purely partisan politician, who has absolutely no moral concerns with saying whatever he wants to at any given time with absolutely no standards for making decisions than the latest partisan line drawn down the aisle. This may sound extreme, and if Hyde himself could respond Im sure hed have a list of things he stands for, and maybe some, I dont know, real beliefs? Yet the simple facts are that the things he said in defense of Oliver North and Reagan were the 180* opposite of what he said during the Clinton Impeachment trial. And there was his affair. Not quite Henry, Im guessing he would have been one of the guys who robbed the corpses of the soldiers at Agincourt, French or English.
Bernstein, Dennis and Leslie Kean. Henry Hydes Moral Universe: Where More than Time and Space are Warped. Monroe, ME. Common Courage: 1999.
Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs. "The process of Rhetorical Criticism." Critiques of contemporary Rhetoric. (Wadsworth: Belmont, CA)1972, p. 35
Clinton, Bill. http://www.c span.org/guide/executive/investigation/search/index.asp. 8/17/98
Cooper, Karen "Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich" Chicago Sun-Times, March 6, 1998. http://www.house.gov/hyde/hydebiotemp.htm
Day , John S. "Washington PMS (post-Monica syndrome)" BANGOR DAILY NEWS (BANGOR, MAINE) February 17, 1999 Wednesday. lxnx
Hyde, Henry. "CLOSING REMARKS OF CONGRESSMAN HENRY J. HYDE" 1/16/99
Hyde, Henry. "Opening Statement on Joint Resolution of Censure." 12/12/98. lxnx
Ridgeway, James. "Mondo Washington." The Village Voice. 12/22/98. lxnx