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Friday, April 08, 2005

Religious Paranoia and an Ethics Challenge

Tom DeLay is making the rounds accusing everyone of hating him because he’s good at his job. He is half right. As a political figure and partisan warrior, there is a lot about DeLay that the opposition can admire – mostly his successes – and hate – the manner in which he wins. It isn’t just that he’s good that bothers people – it’s why he’s good. Beyond that, partisan or ideological differences are simply part of the political world.
DeLay got where he is – the second most powerful Republican in Congress and the most powerful Republican in Texas – because he wins. He wins at any cost. In this, he is the natural heir to his mentor, Newt Gingrich. He honestly doesn’t care if he tears the world asunder so long as he is the one standing astride it in the end. Denny Hastert is Speaker of the House simply because Tom DeLay knew that he was too divisive of a figure to take the position. Of course, being second in command has given DeLay the perfect opportunity to work behind the scenes to make sure that his will gets done anyway. Denny Hastert is a figurehead and George W. Bush is a mouthpiece. Tom DeLay runs things.
This is simply the way things run. This arrangement doesn’t make Tom DeLay a bad man. In fact, from everything I’ve learned about him, he can be a very kind man and he pursues what he believes is good with an abandonment that is a hallmark of the martyr and the obsessive. However, he is a firm believer, apparently, in the belief that the end justifies the means. He is also a man whose religious beliefs include the idea that he will be persecuted for doing the right thing.
For example, he was reprimanded three times in one year for ethical violations. Another ethics complaint is tabled until a court rules on whether the remaining ethics violations are founded or not. A reasonable person would say, “I’ve got to straighten out my act.” Not DeLay. Instead, he launches himself deeper into his religious paranoia. Since Democratic Representative Chris Bell filed ethics grievances against him, DeLay has consistently pandered more and more to the religious right that is his last hard core of support. He also used his position to forcibly redraw Congressional districts in Texas in such a way that Chris Bell stood no chance of being re-elected.
The case that made the news today, where he overpaid his wife and daughter to be his political consultants, really isn’t anything to be concerned over. Honestly, I’d probably overpay my wife and daughter – and son – if I were in his position. There is nothing illegal or immoral about it so long as they provided the required services in a timely and professional manner. The concerns over which group funneled the money to pay for his trip is of concern, but less so in respects to DeLay as to the lobbying community. Sometimes even people we don’t like get taken advantage of and make mistakes. It’s nothing to roast them over.
The other ethics violations show a very real tendency to abuse power for partisan gain. Oddly enough, there is no ethical charge against him for redistricting Texas – largely because he was able to put himself in a weaker (but strong enough to win re-election) electoral position than he was previously. Tom DeLay is a bully, as his recent threats against liberal judges shows.
Even more alarming, though, is the degree to which Tom DeLay has built the Republican Party to reflect his values – win, win, win at any cost. Even right wing fanatics from Gingrich’s tenure are feeling rather moderate as new House members drag the party even further to the religious right. That includes the religious persecution complex, as recent rants about the judiciary and the federal action to pass legislation for Terry Schiavo reflects. Combine the two, and you have a self-fulfilling prophecy of corruption where ethics violations become badges of courage. This is what led the House Republicans to repeal their rule about not allowing members with outstanding indictments to hold leadership positions.
Politics has gotten meaner and dirtier over the last twenty years – and it is tearing this country apart. Tom DeLay is not solely responsible for this, but he is the poster child for the attitudes that are. I have no hope that he will ever step down from his position because to do so would be to admit wrongdoing. That is one thing that Tom DeLay will never do. Like his mentor Gingrich, DeLay seems determined to ride this horse all the way into the ground. For all of his religious conviction, apparently Mr. DeLay never learned that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

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