Thursday, November 29, 2007

The disarming Mr. Hyde

Henry Hyde was the perfect prototype of a Congressman: smart, articulate, distinguished, polite. I wrote that once at the Daily Herald when I covered one of his races in the 1980s. Later, I moved into his district and have been there since.

Upon his passing today, the national and local media will focus today on his legislative accomplishments, his abortion position and his role in the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. They will give scant notice of one of his greatest attributes—his ability, as a conservative, to counteract the mostly liberal press.

Until the impeachment mess, which turned the national media against him, Hyde was treated with much more respect by the media than the average conservative. I'd say in some cases his coverage was in the vicinity of fair.

Hyde was served well by capable aides—Patrick Durante and Sam Stratman—among them. But his good press largely flowed from Henry's combination of smarts and disarming style. I have had conservative clients listen to Hyde's radio interviews to pick up a few pointers. When the media invariably asked their pointed questions on abortion or another social issue, Hyde never demonized his opponents or the media. He acknowledged their point of view and treated them with respect. He always never pandered, standing firm on his principles but expressing them in non-aggressive language. He was always more informed than his interviewer or adversary so he came out ahead on both substance and style.

He was without peer, among conservatives, in dealing with the press. His frequent appearances throughout his career on the WBBM AM 780's half-hour public affairs show "At Issue" should be required listening for conservative candidates.

His successor, Peter Roskam, has watched Hyde closely over the years and displays some of the same rare skills. He also never wavers on his principles but communicates in a dignified, soothing, thoughtful manner.

Henry Hyde, the great disarmer. That is what I'll remember most about my congressman.

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