My hometown has been the center of the political world lately, as
the hometown of president-elect Barack Obama and the base of his
transition team. It has been lively, in all sorts of ways…
At O’Hare airport, the lamposts lining the roads are emblazoned with
artistic flags bearing Obama’s face and bragging that he’s ‘Chicago’s
own’. Radio news and traffic reports lately have reminded drivers in
the Loop to be patient if they encounter the president-elect’s
motorcade and not attempt to go around it ‘or pull up alongside to wave
and try to congratulate Obama’, because (as one newsman only
half-jokingly put it) ‘you should know there are snipers already aiming
It’s been colorful around here lately.
Then there was the weekend edition of the Chicago Sun-Times (last
week) that carried a commemorative color photograph of a smiling
president-elect Obama. Which seemed a little like Britain where houses
have portraits of the Queen, or nation-states that have portraits of
the leader….but then Chicagoans are (for the most part) very proud of
their hometown boy going to the White House, and memorabilia is
everywhere. Grant Park went global as Obama’s victory speech was
telecast to the world and the world shared the excitement of that
There’s a lot of pride in this city, and rightfully so for all that truly makes it great.
But then there’s this.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich wanted President-elect
Barack Obama “to put something together…something big” in exchange for
going along with Obama’s choice to fill his vacant US Senate seat,
according to an FBI affidavit unsealed following the Governor’s
And that’s only one of the many charges in this affadavit, a
criminal complaint announced at a dramatic press conference in Chicago
by the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, and other federal officials.
Another is that he attempted to ’sell’ the Senate seat for big
money. Stunning revelations, all. Rampant corruption is “disgusting” in
its violation of the law and the people’s trust, and it’s on
breathtaking display here at the moment.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald opened that press conference saying this is “a sad day for government”,
and though we’ve been there before, this just dredges that up and at a
time when this city is high with anticipation of the Obama presidency
and we’re supposed to be turning a corner on politics as usual.
So it’s a good time to recall another ‘hometown boy’ (sort of) who
served Illinois in politics for a long career, and nobly. The Honorable
Henry Hyde was a people’s servant who spent his Congressional career as
a champion of human rights and social justice, most notably in
authoring and securing the Hyde Amendment.
THE National Right to Life Committee has estimated that
more than 1 million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde
Amendment. That’s like saying that more than a million Americans are
alive today because of Henry Hyde.
He tried to serve the people with the integrity and morality of his hero, Sir Thomas More, and I’ll never forget when he invoked More’s name on the floor of Congress.
The oath. In many ways, the case you will consider in
the coming days is about those two words, “I do,” pronounced at two
Presidential inaugurations by a person whose spoken words have singular
importance to our nation and to the great globe itself.
More than 450 years ago, Sir Thomas More, former Lord Chancellor of
England, was imprisoned in the Tower of London because he had, in the
name of conscience, defied the absolute power of the King. As the
playwright Robert Bolt tells it, More was visited by his family, who
tried to persuade him to speak the words of the oath that would save
his life, even while in his mind and heart he held firm to his
conviction that the King was in error. More refused. As he told his
daughter Margaret, “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own
self in his hands like water, and if he opens his fingers, then he
needn’t hope to find himself again.”
Sir Thomas More, the most brilliant lawyer of his generation, a
scholar with an international reputation, the center of a warm and
affectionate family life which he cherished, went to his death rather
than take an oath in vain.
May we have more like him.