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January 9, 1999

Mr. Stevens & Mr. Hyde
They stand 131 years apart in history, but like the fabled Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, they comprise a side to our national personality that deserves consideration. Mr. Stevens was considered, in his day, to be second only to Abraham Lincoln in his heroic support of emancipation. As the Civil War ended and reconstruction of the divided nation became the priority, Thaddeus Stevens called for the Senate to oppose the "no fault" reconstruction policies of the unpopular President, Andrew Johnson. He called on Senators to remove this individual ("this double-skinned rhinoceros, this nigtmare that crouches on the breast of the nation") or suffer the execration of history's judgment, that after all of the killing and disruption, that Senate would allow the Civil War's "final measure of devotion" to be corrupted by the drunken successor of America's greatest President, now assassinated, through his retreating policies that put the slaves back under the domination of the former slave owners.

And then we come to the scary alter-ego: Mr. Hyde: Henry seeks to remove a President for nothing even close to the high philosophical calling to which Stevens boosted and cajoled the 1868 Senators. No, our current batch of "Radical Republicans," appear small and distracted compared to their progenitors of the post Civil War. Today, they call for Senators to strike down the most popular President of modern times, twice-elected, for a sexual dalliance that has been absorbed by his marriage, which remains supportively intact, which has been forgiven by the masses, exposed in minute and tawdry detail on every television screen and newspaper in the world, and which, compared to the issues which now go unattended, is growingly insignificant. Even during a military conflict, with deep threats of biological and nuclear retaliation, they were not deterred. The high-minded Thaddeus Stevens appeared in the "old" Senate chamber, near his own death, to call his colleagues to carry forth the spirit of Gettysburg and Appomattox. Hyde appears before his colleagues, oddly blown-dried and perfumed, calling for them not to focus on the high calling of their office but to fixate on Clinton's sexual weaknesses and his efforts to keep them secret. If Hyde has a deeper philosophical difference with a liberal President, he is masking them in minute legalities that probably cannot be proven. Stevens went straight at the beast, calling his attack on Johnson clearly political and based on opposition to his policies. He stated his reasons as the vetoing of 20 Republican bills for reconstruction and he was horrified at Johnson calling for the returning states to oppose the 14th Amendment. Mr. Stevens clearly and resoundingly reflected the beliefs of most Americans of his day. Mr.Hyde flouts them as he marches into ignominy down the hallowed Senate hallways. He has said that he wants to "catch the falling flag," but fails to see who is knocking it over. And as Stevens moved closer to the vote he became louder and clearer in his condemnation of the President's politics. "There is a moral necessity for [impeachment], for which I am care something, and there is a party necessity for it, for which I care more. In fact, the party necessity is the moral necessity." And, the famous call for President to face him: "Unfortunate man! thus surrounded, hampered, tangled in the meshes of his own wickedness -- unfortunate, unhappy man, behold your doom." Standing there at death's door, (Stevens died two months after the Senate failed to convict by one vote) he was honest and impassioned. But Henry Hyde hides behind the probity and rituals of the United States Senate, his true character peeking out at times like cloven hooves beneath the priest's robe. He abandons the opportunity to define his party for the weakest of all arguments: a man's equivocations and prevarications attempting to keep a sexual tryst secret. Hey Henry, here comes the sound of history behind you. As it gallops past, you will disappear in the dust. Clearly, this is not America's greatest moment, but there is no reason for us to go so far down such a wrong road. We should turn back as soon as possible. Clinton will not be convicted in history's magnifying glass, but those who have championed this travesty will be. In the end, they have conspired in their own impeachment and, unfortunately, as they circle the drain, they will drag others down with them.

Thaddeus Stevens still stands tall in history for his strength and righteousness. He did not get the President, but he tried. He fought the good fight and history bears him out. Henry Hyde and company will not stand beside him. 131 years later, Stevens would reach up from the grave and vote against them, and with a forgiving nation. This time, he would be on the winning side.

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