Many journalists see liberals as warm-hearted and conservatives
as mean-spirited. That's why honest reporters are having a tough time with
Tom DeLay, the new majority leader in the House of Representatives.
DeLay should be easy. He ran an exterminator business before
hopping into politics: aha, let's write that he poisoned insects and sees
Democrats as big cockroaches. He's spent eight years as the House majority
whip: aha, let's evoke thoughts of sadism. DeLay's determined fund-raising
techniques gave him the nickname The Hammer: aha, he sees all his opponents
as nails. Even his own name is useful: aha, he has no vision of his own, and
can merely delay the inevitable victory of progressive thought.
A spin through the Lexis-Nexis database shows journalists using
all these gambits. But in a few stories, a disconcerting element arises.
Veteran liberal columnist Mary McGrory once started a column on DeLay with
three bone-chilling words, "He strikes fear," and followed that with a
reference to "The Hammer" and DeLay's "ferocious skills." But then she noted
something unexpected: DeLay is also "the champion of poor, luckless, loser
It turns out that, as McGrory reported, "DeLay and his wife,
Christine, have taken three troubled teen-age foster children into their
Houston home." DeLay has been active in working for neglected and abused
kids in the District of Columbia. Mrs. DeLay is heading an effort to
establish a residential facility in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston,
for kids who otherwise would be bounced around from foster home to foster
How do liberal journalists fit DeLay's activities into the
"mean-spirited conservative" grid? It's easiest to ignore them, or to assume
that DeLay is cynically using foster kids in an attempt to change his image.
But having a foster home is very hard work, and it's a lot easier to
accumulate political brownie points by co-hosting a charity ball.
Besides, DeLay is a straight-shooter who passionately talks
about only what he passionately feels. Recently, when I visited him in
Washington, I'd like to say that my incisive questions led to a conceptual
breakthrough on his part, so that at the end of our late-in-the-day session
he said: "Yes! Now I fully understand how to save the Republic!" Alas,
nothing of the sort happened. DeLay got excited only at one point: when he
talked about foster care. "Every time you take a child out of a home, they
go through the grieving process," he said. "You can imagine the scar tissue
that has built up."
How do reporters who can't ignore his passion or attribute it to
cynicism handle the apparent anomaly? U.S. News & World Report discerned
dualism: DeLay has a dark side and a small angelic side. Journalists often
do this, asking questions like, "How can you care about the poor but also
favor measures that force them to work?" (Because they should be treated as
adults, not pets.) "How can you be pro-life but also support capital
punishment in some cases?" (The goal is to protect innocent life.). "Since
you're broad-minded in many areas, why do you favor a narrow standard of
personal morality concerning marriage?" (Because the Bible says adultery is
That last sentence is key: I tell reporters that the Bible for
me is more important than our classifying boxes. DeLay believes that, too.
Reporters who read the Bible and come to understand why some people take it
seriously will also understand the supposed inconsistency of Tom DeLay --
and maybe other inconsistencies, as well.