Five years ago this Christmas, an elderly aunt of mine from a little town in Illinois came out to Boonville for a visit. Like lots of Americans of her generation, my aunt’s political views were shaped by the Great Depression. Her side of the family lived for days at a time “on milk and potatoes.” The milk was from a neighbor’s cow and the potatoes were from their own backyard garden. Every elected official in Southern Illinois got behind FDR’s New Deal.
Christmas Eve we talked some politics. “Who do you like in Congress?” she asked. “No one comes to mind,” I replied. “Well,” the old lady continued, leaning in at me like she was about to reveal the secret of life, “I can tell you who the absolute worst of ‘em is — Henry Hyde. He’s the worst.”
You can’t miss Hyde where she comes from because he represents a rich enclave up the road near Chicago. And now he’s a statesman. When my aunt was a kid, a politician who looked and talked like Henry Hyde might not have survived a campaign stop in Hillsboro, Illinois.
Here the silver-coifed capon five Christmas’s later described by Time magazine as a statesman at least equal in probity and all-round sagacity to Lincoln, who I heard Hyde himself invoke the other day, subtly inserting his own low-down self in the context of Honest Abe. I was thinking of calling my aunt to ask her what she thought of plump Henry’s promotion but I decided not to ruin her Christmas for her.
The whole Congress looks like the collections department at Beneficial Finance, but Hyde is easily the lead jackal, considering the dispiriting mob purely on their appearances.
I was thinking about Congressman Hyde’s promotion to statesman as I drove to Ukiah Saturday. About noon, at the corner of State and Standley, a young, cleancut father and his nicely-kept and well-dressed daughter stood with signs protesting all by themselves the grotesque attack on Iraq. Dad held a sign that said “Peace Through Peace.” The little girl — seven or eight, I’d guess — shyly clutched a placard which read, “Bombs Are Bad.” She’s too young to know how bad bombs can be, or how much good they can do in certain desperate, no-exit contexts. And left to her own childish devices, I’m sure she’d have preferred to have been some place other than downtown Ukiah, the world’s weight on her uncomprehending shoulders. But I was glad to see the two of them there. It was something in the great sea of indifference. We have about as much to say about it as the Iraqis. The President needs to divert attention from the well-deserved consequences of his sordid behavior, lob a few bombs at a distant manufactured hate object. What would our long-distance warriors do without Saddam Hussein?
On the evening news I watched a clip “live from Iraq,” as it was identified on the bottom right of the television screen. A bunch of Iraqis were standing around a burst water main. A big burst water main. A couple of small boys, about the same age as the little girl standing in the middle of Ukiah with her “Bombs Are Bad” sign, played on the fringes of the sudden gusher released in their neighborhood. An American general, looking a little sheepish, I thought, appeared on screen to explain the bombed water main as the “collateral damage inevitable in war.”
Hey, firing rockets at desert cities from 150 miles away things go wrong, OK? Then the announcer said Baghdad’s sewage treatment plant had also been struck by a rocket. No sewage treatment for a city of any size means major public health problems for lots of ordinary citizens, in this case citizens who hate and fear their government a lot more than the government bombing them does, which doesn’t hate them at all.
But the destruction of Baghdad’s sewage treatment plant was simply more collateral damage, all of it part of a four-day, half a billion dollar blitz without any follow-up plan to get Hussein off the backs of his people or otherwise defang on behalf of our clients in the neo-fascist state of Israel.
Various Clinton people, all of them liars but not quite up to the boss’s standard, came on screen to express the vague hope that somehow ordinary Iraqis would get tired of being pounded by our bombs and rockets and rise up and get rid of the tyrant at the top of their heap.
Last time we bombed Iraq back to 1920, George Bush encouraged dissident Iraqis to rise up, but when they rose up they found themselves in the kill zone without air support, arms or ammo. The people who rose up were then hunted down and slaughtered for a year afterwards.
So who’s Henry Hyde, the Lincoln of suburban Chicago who Time described as “a man of courtliness and character who’s too intellectually honest to throw his weight around for partisan reasons?”
He’s a uniquely American zealot who serves Mammon and God — in that order. He’s walked point for the Christian Coalition — organized rightwing nuts — ever since they appeared on the national scene. He’s for school prayer and, laughably, given his own well-documented philandering, “chastity until marriage.” It was Hyde’s Judiciary Committee that hustled through big parts of the Contract On America. Hyde was also Reagan’s boy on the House committee investigating Iran-Contra, wrapping that performance up with a declaration that Oliver North and John Poindexter were “heroes” for distributing hard dope in American cities to fund an undeclared war on the peasants of Nicaragua. And he’s an S&L crook of nearly Hurwitzian proportions. Hyde was on the board of directors of Clyde Federal Savings and Loan Association whose collapse cost taxpayers $68 million when it went under. The silver-haired bag man was sued by the feds and paid up $850,000 in an out-of-court settlement.
But Henry Hyde’s a statesman now.
Closer to home, our lame duck Congressman, Frank Riggs, has closed his office in Washington and his answering machine at his Napa office says “This mailbox is full” to all incoming calls. Riggs has abandoned his constituents (which is probably just as well) for six weeks now. But he’s been available to the national media for a solid month as one of only several “undecideds” on the Clinton impeachment vote. This low-rent Hamlet, milked his transparently bogus dilemma for a final stroll through the national media spotlight, his rat-faced, beady-eyed visage ubiquitous on television for a week with coy evasions about how he’d vote on impeachment. Surprise! Riggs, true to the sanctimony Republicans seem to need like the rest of us need a pot of coffee, voted for impeachment.
Driving home from Fort Bragg Thursday, I turned on KZYX to hear what my “alternative” local public radio station was saying about the the attacks on Iraq. In a half hour of Pacifica’s newscast not a single dissenting view was presented. What was presented was a live report from a rally of “liberals and progressives” lead by Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt and some union guy who yelled about putting “Newt Gingrich’s fat ass on the midnight train for Georgia.” On television the crowd who cheered this dimwit were at least three-quarters fat asses.
The Pacifica announcer — three names of course — said Jackson and Gephardt’s fat ass rally was “a spontaneous defense of President Clinton by liberals and progressives.” Which was which? By Pacifica’s standards Jackson had to be the pwog, Gephardt the lib, although objectively neither is either. But Pwog and Lib both said Clinton couldn’t be impeached while “our brave men and women were in harm’s way.” Harm’s way 150 miles from where the rockets explode on undefended targets. Or 30,000 feet above harm’s way dropping bombs on sites you can’t see.
At home I snapped on Headline News where Lynn Russell, the Anti-Debbie and national heartthrob for middleaged white guys everywhere, was describing an on-screen clip of Democrats waddling out of Congress in some kind of protest. Then there were clips of the impeachment “debate,” and more visual evidence that the country is in the hands of Ukiah Rotary.
“The honorable gentleman from the 20-20 Club recognizes the honorable gentleman from Willits’ Elks.” There was a lot of talk from Republicans about saving the children from bad examples like Clinton, and a lot of talk from Democrats about saving the children from hypocrites like the Republicans. And of course there was a lot of talk about the brave lads and lasses lobbing long distance explosives at an ancient city of Mesopotamia to make the world safe for SUV fuel. But ol’ Lynn, as always her bullshit detector fully operational, delivered the “news” with perfectly timed chuckles and ironic smiles. She seems to be the only intelligent person on television.
Back at the carefully planned spontaneous Clinton rally, Gephardt, concluded a string of bland cliches by yelling with all the emotion of a K-Mart beach ball, “It’s wrong” five or six times. By that time, mesmerized by Lynn’s splendor, I’d forgotten what it was that was supposed to be wrong. Surely Gephardt couldn’t be hollering outrage at the shameless attack on Iraq. Oh, it’s wrong to impeach Clinton.
The hired rally cheered halfheartedly at Gephardt’s rhetorical plastic and waved manufactured signs for Clinton.
Then Jackson said Clinton had done “many great things for the American people” without specifying the great things Clinton had done for the American people because there aren’t any.
The stock market, the true measure of the stability of this doomed country, was unmoved by the latest chapter in Clinton’s Motel Six Kama Sutra. The money boys know Bill’s good for business, but they also know that he’s interchangeable with Gore or whatever big biz errand boy the Republicans might put up.
The whole dog got wagged last week.