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The other vote last Thursday

By Al Mollo
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 13, 1998
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Every now and then, an opportunity arises, which makes the answering of every call and opening of each piece of mail all worthwhile. Last Thursday one of those opportunities arose.

There is no doubt it was the making of history. For just the third time ever in our republic, Congress moved to expand an inquiry on impeachment of the President of the United States.

"Speaker's office," I told the guard as I walked past the hundreds of people waiting in line to a catch a glimpse of the debate. I was ushered to the front row of the House gallery and offered a view suitable for a first lady watching her husband's State of the Union Address.

The debate came and went, the votes cast and tallied. After the verbal fire-fight ceased and the smoke had cleared, 31 Democrats joined all but one Republican in demanding an open-ended inquiry of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. Then, with the business complete, the members, the press and the eyes of the world turned away.

If only they had stayed a little longer. The vote which would symbolize a great day in our nation would sit in the shadow of the sad excitement all had come to see. Later that afternoon, with just a handful of representatives still present on the floor, the House passed by voice vote legislation to grant the Medal of Honor to President Theodore Roosevelt for his actions during battle in the Spanish-American War.

Lt. Col. Roosevelt was the leader of the First United States Volun-teer Cavalry, more commonly know as the "Rough Riders." This regiment was made of volunteers from all walks of life, considered to be unpolished and undisciplined.

The army prepared to attack the San Juan Heights the morning of July 1, 1898. The Rough Riders waited eagerly for their orders and were taking heavy causalities. Placing matters into his own hands, Roosevelt, perched high upon his horse, led his men past the hesitant Ninth Cavalry. Under constant and heavy fire at close range, his leadership and bravery inspired his men to take the hill.

Congressman Paul McHale of Pennsylvania and more than 150 members who co-sponsored this legislation contend Roosevelt was the victim of both personal and institutional biases, resulting in the denial of the Medal of Honor.

This is highlighted by a personal feud between Roosevelt and Secretary of War Russell Alger as well as the inherent bias against volunteers in the war. Also, the sponsors contend that adequate information was not granted at the time of the initial request.

Roosevelt's actions that day, witnessed by many, gallant and beyond the call of duty, and made without any regard for his own safety, make him deserving of this highest decoration.

Although many on the floor argued that a president's private conduct should not matter to us, the legacy of a great president past reminds us differently. The character, which he displayed so clearly that day, was what would later make him one of the greatest leaders in our history.

After TR's death, his wife remarked that not receiving the Medal of Honor was the greatest disappointment of his life. Although now long gone, Roosevelt's spirit was present in the chamber that day. It is unfortunate, though, that he had to wait for the end of this somber spectacle to receive his honor.

As for the impeachment vote against President Clinton, had TR been given the floor that day he would almost certainly have had a few words of his own for the 105th Congress.

"What you need in a man who represents you," he once said, "is that he shall show the same qualities of honesty, courage and common sense that in private life make the type of man you are willing to have as a neighbor, that you are willing to wok for, or to have work for you. While the private life of a public man is of secondary importance, it is certainly a mistake to assume that it is of no importance."

He continued to say that "No man can be of any service to his state, no man can amount to anything from the standpoint of usefulness to the community at large unless first and foremost, he is a decent man in the close relations of life."

With the new century before us, Americans should pray that the dark cloud now over Washington will give way to the emergence of another leader like the one who blessed the dawn of the last.

Al Mollo is a political science senior serving an internship in House Speaker Newt Gingrich's office. He can be reached via e-mail at