May 19, 2005

Perspective: What is Lost Right Now in the Partisan Debate Swirling Around Tom DeLay

In the heat of intense political warfare, perspective is often the first thing to disappear. Let's apply that observation to the debate about Tom DeLay, Republican Majority Leader in the US House of Representatives, and see if we can regain some perspective.

I have been critical of Tom DeLay even before Howard Dean got into the act. I was critical because, like many Americans, I actually believed in the principles outlined in the 1994 Contract With America, which was instrumental in the Republicans gaining majority control of the House. It is my opinion that they have largely squandered that legacy and, as a House leader, that means DeLay deserves criticism because he has become an inside-the-Beltway power broker in a way that is not all that different from the Democrats I have criticized previously.

What do we know about DeLay? We know he is quite effective at power politics. He did not get the nickname "The Hammer" for nothing. By definition, that is going to create some enemies. We also know he has done some wonderful things in his personal life that get little or no publicity and show he is a more complex personality than his nickname suggests:

The DeLays share a deep interest in the circumstances facing abused and neglected children. They got involved with children's issues after Christine DeLay, a teacher, began volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children in foster care. Eventually, the DeLays became foster parents themselves. Today, they are outspoken advocates in favor of reforming the present foster care system by making the child's best interest the paramount concern.

We should also recognize that DeLay's religious beliefs put him at odds with the secular left fundamentalists, who show no tolerance toward their philosophical opponents.

Then along comes Howard Dean, who has declared DeLay guilty of crimes for which DeLay has not even been charged. Never mind the American principle of being innocent until proven guilty.

Like all Americans, except for Howard Dean and his ilk, I have no ability to judge whether DeLay might be charged with or found guilty of crimes in the future. All I have the ability to judge today is that there is an intense political storm swirling around DeLay.

Which is why today's story is so interesting:

Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who denies partisan motives for his investigation of a political group founded by Republican leader Tom DeLay, was the featured speaker last week at a Democratic fund-raiser where he spoke directly about the congressman.

A newly formed Democratic political action committee, Texas Values in Action Coalition, hosted the May 12 event in Dallas to raise campaign money to take control of the state Legislature from the GOP, organizers said.

Earle, an elected Democrat, helped generate $102,000 for the organization...

Earle and his staff of prosecutors have obtained indictments of three DeLay associates on charges that their political committee, the DeLay-led Texans for a Republican Majority, broke state campaign finance laws with the use of corporate donations on its way to helping establish Republican control in the state House.

Earle said Wednesday he knew the group that met in Dallas was raising money for Democrats, but that it was not his reason for speaking...

Political analysts said Earle's appearance left him open to questions about his motives.

"It may help Tom DeLay establish his case that Ronnie Earle's investigation is a partisan witch hunt," said Richard Murray, a political scientist with the University of Houston.

"It clearly fuels the perception that his investigation is politically motivated. It was probably not a wise move," said Larry Noble, a former Federal Election Commission lawyer who heads the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics...

Former House Speaker Jim Wright, a Fort Worth Democrat who was forced to resign from Congress in 1989 after the House Ethics Committee began investigating whether he improperly profited from a book publishing deal, was among those who attended the event. He is scheduled to speak at the committee's next fund-raiser in June...

Dallas lawyer Ed Ishmael, another co-founder of the Democratic committee to which Earle spoke, is described on the group's Web site as "a leader in the Howard Dean presidential campaign" of 2004.

[Here, on June 20, is some additional information on the behavior of Ronnie Earle.]

So, from afar, I believe the only credible statement that can be made right now is that DeLay is a partisan and he is being attacked by people with a competing partisan agenda. Welcome to politics, a contact sport.

As American citizens, we can only hope that the truth will prevail even as we simultaneously worry that partisan agendas - regardless of party - will focus on achieving victory at all costs, even if that means sacrificing the search for facts and an honest interpretation of those facts.

Two takeaway thoughts that can help us regain perspective:

First, the intensity of the partisan fighting is directly correlated to what is at stake and big government means there is more to fight over. One of the reasons the Founding Fathers encouraged limited government was their deep understanding of human nature.

Second, since politicians and bureaucrats have no incentive to behave well, a diligent citizenry is crucially important to the ongoing success of our American experiment in ordered liberty.