Thursday, September 29, 2005

Compassion as political tool - the fall of Tom DeLay

by Rich Miles

Whenever we learn of hideous atrocities committed by people, we usually wonder why the simple act of "putting themselves in the victims' position" never occurs to the perpetrators. After all, Hitler could not have ever thought about what it was like to be a Jew on the way to a gas chamber - if he had, surely he could not have caused so many Jews to be killed, right? Or Idi Amin, or Saddam Hussein, or Robert Mugabe, or any of the other world-renowned torturers and killers of thousands or millions. It's called compassion to make this mental comparison, to wonder how bad we would feel if we were in the position in which we place our victims, and it's a simple act of humanity that causes most of us not to do things which hurt others. Every religion or belief system in the history of the world has had an equivalent to what the Christian West calls "The Golden Rule", and it is arguably the single most important ethical and human-interactional rule by which people have lived for millennia.

There has been a lot of talk about compassion in the past few years - the concept of "compassionate conservatism", while pretty much discredited in action, was at least attractive enough to us as an idea to get an incompetent, mean-spirited and corrupt liar elected to the U.S. presidency twice.

But then comes Tom DeLay - a man who, even in his own party, is known, and sadly sometimes admired, for his almost utter lack of compassion. In 21 years in the U.S. Congress, DeLay's entire purpose was the collection and consolidation of power, regardless of the pain caused to others, or the cost to America. Oh sure, he must also have done something of value for his congressional constituents, or they wouldn't have elected him 11 times. But in essence, his whole career in Washington has been about partisanship - not cooperation for the good of all Americans (what a silly idea!), not the creation of value for America, but power for its own sake. And now he is wounded politically, by all accounts his wound is largely self-inflicted, and the wound may, if America is lucky, be eventually fatal.

So if Tom DeLay has had a lot of trouble in his career feeling or expressing compassion, he will continue to have this problem, and he will never understand why, when he finally fell from grace, his opponents were not just relieved to see him (possibly) go, but were in many cases positively gleeful that he's finally got his goolies in such a serious wringer. After all, we all love to see a bad guy, a bully get what he deserves in the end - it was the basis for the success of so many of those cowboy pictures that he and his president seem to love to emulate, that justice would eventually prevail. And DeLay has deserved it for a long, long time. His is the clearest example in living memory of the old adage that "power corrupts, and absolute power (which DeLay had to some extent in his own area of endeavor) corrupts absolutely."

And the best part of this, in my opinion, is that even if his lawyers manage to weasel him out of the charge on some legal technicality, that will be almost as bad for him as a conviction. Or at least, I hope it will be. You never know what they'll do down there in Texas...

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