During the four formented hours in which the House of Representatives made Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers a footnote to history, it was sometimes hard to tell who was on the griddle -- the congressman from Philadephia or those who had gathered to judge him.
In a bravura address to hushed colleagues before they voted to expel him, the former longsoreman with the rough-cut vacabulary faced them defiantly, marshaling a moral indignation equal to any expressed by his accusers.
"When you take your cards and approach that machine to vote," Myers warned, "keep in mind when you hit that button, it will have the same effect of hitting the button as if I was strapped in the electric chair here in this chamber . . ."
No participant in yesterday's morality play seemed eager to be a star in it. Most of the members who spoke up prefaced their remarks by saying how painful the whole thing was.
Many congressman were caught between a desire to be loyal to their colleague and the necessity of Nov. 4 -- facing an electorate fed up with political corruption. As Rep. Jonathan B. Bingham (D-N.Y.) said in an eloquent statement. "To take any lesser action than explulsion would, I'm afraid, be further proof to our disillusioned young people that Congress protects its own and condones influence peddling."
Except for Myers, the tone of the proceedings, swung from that of a dirge to that of a courtroom drama with dozens of lawyers lined up to make impassioned closing arguments.
Myers accused colleagues of denying him his constitutional rights by moving so much faster than they had in last year's censure of Rep. Charles Digs (D-Mich.). With sympathetic prompting from Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Calif.), who addressed him by his nickname "Ozzie," Myers blamed his videotaped acceptance of bribery money partly on the fact that "I was drinking FBI bourbon. You know what that is, big glasses of it . . . I don't recall ever having bourbon on the rocks before."
Wilson suggested to Myers a moment erlier that being a former longshoreman probably made him a beer drinker by custom. The California congressman, himself censured once for kickbacks and once in the Koreagate scandal, sat with his arm along the back of Myers' chair, something of a father figure through Myers' ordeal. t
Myers sat grim and attentive, listening from the fourth row on the speaker's right, usually alone, as others debated the timing of his demise, before or after the elections.
The galleries were packed, swollen with Capitol Hill aides, students and others drawn by what they felt would be, as one put it, "a historial spectacle." Many, however, were tourists who had no idea what was on the agenda.
Myers got little encouragement from any of them.
After his statement protesting his expulsion, five supporters sitting together in the gallery applauded. They were the only ones. One who described himself as an unemployed resident of Myers' district later paused in the corridor to light a cigarette, his hand shaking, his eyes moist. A tall young man, he said he plans to vote for Myers again. "I don't think he did a damn thing wrong."
The House members, listening to Myers, were somber. Some shook their heads.
"Rush to judgement" and "lynch mob" were used frequently by members who argued that the House ought not to decide in the "heat, glare and pressure" of an election campaign.
It fell to Rep. Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.), chairman of the ethics committee which recommended expulsion, to present the case and rebut Myers' charges against the House.
"This is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do as a member of Congress," he said.
Perhaps to prove the point, Bennett rushed through his rendition of the facts in a subdued monotone that robbed it of all impact. He cleaned up the famous axiom coined by Myers as he discussed his bribe with a fake sheik on tape.
"Money talks and bull-ess walks," as Bennett quoted it, although another member used the whole word earlier.
That celebrated quote inspired a scathing speech by Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.), who deplored the fact that this period of history would be remembered for Myers' cynical remark. Thomas spoke selected words of Jefferson and Lincoln -- then compared them with vintage Ozzie Myers.
"That may be a comment on today," Thomas concluded, "but it ought not to be a comment on tomorrow."
After the final vote, Myers waded boldly into the pack of reporters and cameras in the press gallery to deliver more from his perspective on the case. Later, leaving his House office, he said, "I am leaving Washington and going back to America." 30 Voted No, 27 Did Not Vote
These are the 30 House members who voted against expelling Rep. Michael (Ozzie) Myers:
These are the 27 members who did not vote (there are two vacancies in the 435-member House):