Be Thankful Tom DeLay Is Going To Jail

“As for DeLay, his time will probably come. He has ethical blind spots galore, and is only getting bolder with time. The more the Republicans move to protect “The Hammer,” the more damaging DeLay’s inevitable fall will be to the party. As the old newspaper columnists used to say, “You read it here first!”

I posted that almost exactly six years ago. In the years I have been doing ethics commentary, no figure inspired (or perhaps depressed) me more than Tom DeLay when he was G.O.P. Majority leader in the House. Now he has finally been convicted of the legal violations that his contempt for ethics virtually guaranteed.  From “Too Dumb to be Ethics Dunces,” posted in 2005:

“The fact that more and more ethically questionable conduct is being attributed to DeLay should not surprise anyone, especially Republicans, who know him best. The latest involve taking foreign junkets paid for by lobbyists (DeLay’s response, right out of “The Sleazy Public Servant’s Handbook,” Chapter I: “I didn’t know!”) and paying his relatives over a half million dollars for their work on his behalf (his response to that one: “I’m not the only one who does it!”), but never mind: many more are on the way. DeLay, to be blunt, regards ethics as nothing but hurdles to jump in the pursuit of political objectives, and this has been his modus operandi from the beginning of his government career. Some allegations that surface may turn out to be exaggerated or even false, but there is undoubtedly a bountiful supply of real ethical atrocities with The Hammer’s fingerprints all over them, just waiting to slither to the surface….Maybe he’ll be indicted soon, in Texas, for his shady fundraising, or maybe he’ll duck that one until another illicit scheme trips him up. DeLay isn’t changing, you see; he can’t. Just as it was inevitable from the early 1950s that Richard Nixon was going to do himself in, because he had no ethical compass; and just as it was crystal clear before he was elected President that Bill Clinton would wreck his administration with some kind of scandal because he regards all principles as negotiable; so it is written that Tom DeLay is going down. A dunce could see it.As for DeLay, his time will probably come. He has ethical blind spots galore, and is only getting bolder with time. The more the Republicans move to protect “The Hammer,” the more damaging DeLay’s inevitable fall will be to the party.”

It was, of course. DeLay’s slimy ways led directly to the Abramoff lobbying scandal; it infected everyone on the Republican side, all the way up to the White House and on to conservative commentators, who cheered DeLay’s Machiavellian conduct because “it worked.” Sure, it worked: it guaranteed corrupt oversight, irresponsible budgeting, lobbyist manipulated regulation and influence peddling, and led directly to the deterioration in the public’s faith in government, the burgeoning budget deficit, the economic collapse, and Democratic routs in 2006 and 2008.

Nice job, Hammer.

It was not just that he was so unethical, though Delay was certainly that. My interest, passion and indignation were spurred by the fact that he was so obviously a cultural corrupter, not only of his party, but of Congress and the entire political process. In another post, I wrote:

“The old adage is proven: a rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. Tom DeLay is no longer just an aberrational political hatchet man with no scruples. He is a danger to the integrity of the United States Government. That is something Republicans should care about just as much as Democrats; indeed more. DeLay is a Republican Party leader, and the damage he does is their responsibility”

The implications of this are that the DeLay-like tactics later employed by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are in large part the responsibility the Republicans, who smiled and cheered while Tom DeLay was lowering the bar. Looking back on his machinations, it is amazing that complaints about his methods were dismissed as “partisan attacks.

“Their strategy is familiar…so familiar, in fact, that it would tip off smarter people that it is doomed to fail. Claim that the allegations are just partisan attempts at “personal destruction” (and never mind the fact that DeLay’s misconduct has already been condemned by the House Ethics Committee multiple times, and is very real, serious, and ongoing.) Point out that many of the things he is being criticized for are legal (irrelevant to the little matter of whether they are fair, honest, or right…this is part of the Enron defense, and you know how well that has been working…). Name names of other politicians who have done the same things (that well-known moralist Larry Flynt …he of Hustler Magazine… adopted this classy approach to defend President Clinton).

Most of all, their strategy dictates that they treat the attack on DeLay as an attack on conservative Republicans generally. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and an outspoken social conservative, said that conservatives need to remind the public that DeLay is a target because he is the leader of a larger movement. “He is in the cross hairs in large part because of his effectiveness,” Perkins said. “It’s a typical strategy: Take out the leader, and other people scatter.” Rep. Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.), DeLay’s deputy whip, says that Democrats can’t “accept the Republican majority in Congress, and see this majority leader as one that they can’t beat at the polls and now have taken to a planned attack of personal destruction.”

“It is not stopping at Tom DeLay, and Tom DeLay is not the issue,” Cantor explains. “It is much larger than that, and it’s about the majority that they’re after. They didn’t win in November and in fact had a setback. So it is do or die for them.”

And who is going to be the new Republican Majority Leader in the 2011 House?

Eric Canter!

As the dying Messala told Ben-Hur: “It goes on!”

Why couldn’t everyone see where this was going? The reason is as old as politics: power begins to be accepted as virtue. This is how Tom DeLay saw the world, and undoubtedly still does. In photos of him leaving the courthouse with his distraught family following his conviction Wednesday, he is smiling, and you can guess, knowing the Hammer, what he is thinking. “OK, they won this round! I’ll get the bastards yet!”

Still, DeLay is going to jail, and that should help. Maybe some of the eager acolytes DeLay left behind, as well as some of the Democrats who studied his methods and vowed to use them as soon as they came into power, will realize that when you treat ethical principles as merely obstacles to maneuver around, the habits and perspective you develop will eventually doom you to failure and infamy.  The Top Ten Reasons to get rid of Tom DeLay that I posted in 2005, in other words, will apply to them. Here they are:

1. Tom DeLay is chronically and incurably unethical.

2. The fact that other elected officials may do or have done some of the same unethical practices is not a defense. They should be stopped too, but we’re not talking about them.

3. The fact that some of DeLay’s maneuvers are technically legal does not justify or excuse the fact that his conduct has almost certainly violated the first four provisions of the House Ethics Rules, and that he has habitually violated the first, ninth, and tenth provisions of the ethics rules pertaining to all government officials. [See below] These aren’t laws. Ethics aren’t laws.

4. A group’s ethical attitudes are inevitably influenced by its leader.

5. A group that embraces an unethical leader will ultimately be corrupted by him (or her) if he or she stays leader long enough.

6. People will judge a group by its leaders.

7. Having a leader widely regarded as unethical will reflect badly on the group he (or she) leads, and inevitably erode its prestige, power, and support.

8. That a group’s adversaries will look for and exploit misdeeds by the group’s leaders does not excuse the misdeeds themselves or make them tolerable.

9. As a general rule, honest and ethical leaders give their adversaries little or nothing to find and exploit

And most important of all….

10. A group that does not have the requisite sense, principles, values and courage to remove an unethical leader is doomed to fail, and deserves to fail.”

In the end, DeLay’s methods did not work. Though the contagion he helped spread is still with us in the leadership of both parties, a nice long jail sentence, which DeLay now faces, often has the effect of a good slap in the face to admirers, followers, students and imitators. Tom DeLay is no longer a role model, but an example of what happens to unethical leaders. We should all be thankful for that.

[You can read my 2004-2008 ethics commentaries on the Tom DeLay saga and its consequence here, here, here, herehere, here, and here.]

2 thoughts on “Be Thankful Tom DeLay Is Going To Jail

  1. “To kill the snake, chop off its head.”

    It was a long time coming, but at least it came. One just hopes that the new Republicans in Congress come with better role models than DeLay, and for all their much-criticized inexperience will take their jobs more to heart than all the old-timers who admired “the Hammer.” (“Hammer?” Good God.)

    Many people say the death penalty doesn’t prevent murder. That the fear of penalty does not stop the crime. They can say that. But for long-time Senators and Congressmen who have lived powerful, privileged lives, DeLay’s end may in fact be a deterrent. One can only hope.

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Be Thankful Tom DeLay Is Going To Jail | Ethics Alarms --

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