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Serving the Claims of Justice: The Thoughts of Paul B. Henry - Forward by David S. Broder


David S. Broder

Every time I walk from the Capitol South Metro station to the Capitol, I look for a moment at the memorial tree placed alongside the façade of the Cannon House Office Building as a tribute to Paul Henry. I remember the morning it was planted by members of the Michigan delegation, led by the dean of the House, John Dingell, with many others of Paul's admirers-members, staff and reporters-in attendance.

What was it that made this relatively junior member of what was then the minority party in the House so important to so many people? The one-word answer is character. The real explanation is a little more nuanced and complicated, but it does not take you far from the simplest explanation.

The first nuance is the historical context in which Paul Henry served. When he was elected to the House in 1984, Republicans had controlled the White House for twelve of the previous sixteen years. But Democrats had held the House majority for thirty years. Partisan tensions were high, both between the branches and within the House itself. After being intimidated for a time by the popularity of President Reagan, Democrats had found their voice-and their backbone-and were using their muscle in Congress to challenge the man who was now a lame-duck president. House Republicans complained, not without justification, that the rules and procedures were rigged against them, and they adopted guerilla tactics designed to make life as difficult as possible for the domineering Democrats.

The second nuance was institutional. Paul Henry's background as a college professor and scholar made it natural for him to seek a place on the Education and Labor Committee. But, as it happened, that committee was one of the most partisan cockpits in a partisan Congress. The AFL-CIO had stacked the Democratic side of the committee with reliable friends and the teachers' unions had been particularly assiduous in seeing that allies filled the Democratic chairs. Almost reflexively, some of the most conservative Republicans in the House went onto the committee, in hopes of slowing or tempering its liberal impulses.

It was in this setting that Paul Henry chose to play the political role to which his principles and his personality impelled him-the reasonable man, searching for areas of agreement, rather than trying to score rhetorical or political points.

He was not naïve. He had cut his teeth in Michigan politics, leading the Republican Party in Kent County, a sophisticated constituency which set high standards for its elected officials. He had served in the Michigan house and the Michigan senate and had learned the arts of legislative compromise and craftsmanship.

But none of that fully prepared him for the animosities he found in his committee and on the floor of the House. His refusal to be intimidated by them was what first attracted me to him. Politicians are expected to be upbeat, but many of the Republicans who were Paul Henry's colleagues had had their hopes frustrated and their ideas rejected so many times that they had become embittered or, what was almost worse, indifferent to their legislative duties. Their unspoken attitude was: I'm going to worry about getting reelected, because these blankety-blank Democrats won't let me do anything else up here.

That was never Paul Henry's attitude. He came to Congress to accomplish things, for the people of his district and for the country. And even in that atmosphere of rancid partisanship, he communicated that intention so clearly that colleagues in both parties found themselves responding. He was so straightforward in his motivations and his purposes that others found it embarrassing to be cynical.

The authors in this volume-most of whom knew Paul Henry far longer and more intimately than I did-can explain the sources of his strength of character, and they can recount the many accomplishments of his too-brief career.

Let me offer just one thought. As a political reporter, nothing pains me more than hearing voters say, as many do, "Those politicians-they're all the same." It is not meant as a compliment, because the following sentences make clear that their concept of a politician is somebody who is in it for power, for money, for ego, for partisan advantage, or all of the above. I know that is a caricature, not a portrait, of what some journalists refer to demeaningly as "the political class." But that caricature cannot be effectively rebutted by any reporter's counterclaim. Disabusing that notion will require much greater public familiarity with men and women in public life whose actions and principles give a lie to the cynicism.

Paul Henry was such a man, and this book, I hope, will tell more Americans how fully one politician lived up to the highest standards of public service.