Congressman Henry Hyde of Illinois was both a friend and a hero of mine. He was, whatever one might think of his stands on various issues, a man of principle from a state that has over the years produced more than its share of flexible politicians willing to do or say just about anything to win an election.
More Illinois governors have been sent to prison on corruption charges than the governors of any other state, and the Illinois government has almost from the beginning been peppered with officials from top to bottom willing to sell out to the highest bidder. The place is so bad that residents are fleeing by the thousands to jurisdictions where politicians don’t spend all their time trying to pick their pockets.
For all that, however, the state has produced a few really great men and women of principle; it’s not known as “The Land of Lincoln” for nothing. Henry Hyde was one such Illinoisan and I thought of him as another Illinoisan, Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski fought the massed forces of the progressive left because he wouldn’t renounce his lifelong opposition to abortion.
At one point late in his career, Hyde told me that over the years many aspiring young politicos had asked his advice. “Anyone contemplating running for office,” he would ask them, “what issue or principle is so important to you that you would rather lose than change.” In his earlier years, he told me, most if not all the aspiring candidate could name a principle they would rather fall on their sword than abandon.
As the years went on, he told me “I was surprised at how few people I asked that question could come up with an issue they cared that much about.” That they couldn’t, he said, was a sad commentary both on society and the sorts of people now attracted to politics and public service. “More and more people get into politics these days to do well rather than to do good.”
Although Mr. Lipinski succeeded his father who held the seat before him, he came to elected office indirectly. He holds a PhD in political science from Duke University and before moving back to Chicago to run for Congress when his father, Dan, retired in 2004, he taught at Notre Dame and the University of Tennessee. His interest was not just in winning, but in the issues that had motivated him as a student and teacher.
He rather quickly established himself as one of the more conservative Democrats in the House, which enraged the progressive wing of his party that was growing stronger and stronger in his safe but increasingly liberal Chicago area district. That didn’t deter him. A Catholic and social conservative, he broke with his colleagues on the abortion issue and went so far as to co-chair the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.
Mr. Lipinski has also broken with his more liberal colleagues on foreign policy questions and emerged during the last year as one of the strongest and most vocal congressional supporters of the pro-freedom movement in Hong Kong. He has been a vocal critic of the Democratic Party’s move to the left.
It was his refusal to kowtow to the left on the abortion issue, however, that doomed him. He faced and overcame a pro-abortion challenger in 2018, but she came back this year with literally millions of dollars from pro-choice forces and it cost him the primary … and his job.
In an opinion piece that appeared in The Wall Street Journal after his defeat, Mr. Lipinski said he believed that had he been willing to change his position on abortion and perhaps apologize for his previous support of pro-life measures in Congress, those millions would have vanished and he’d have won his primary.
But he wasn’t about to do that. Mr. Lipinski was asked by a reporter after the votes were counted why he didn’t craft language like Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and many other Democrats had that they “could live with” while satisfying progressives at the same time. That would, she opined, give him room to “maneuver” on the issue.
Mr. Lipinski’s answer was simple enough: “I have always said that I would never give up being pro-life. … I could never give up protecting the most vulnerable human beings in the world simply to win an election.”
Henry Hyde, who shared Mr. Lipinski’s views on abortion but probably disagreed with the man on much else, would have been proud to know that Illinois is still capable of producing such politicians.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for The Washington Times.