Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Why I don't read Texas Monthly

For some reason I can't resist comment on this profile of Tom DeLay in Texas Monthly. It is typical of the mendacity of Texas Monthly, which never bites the hand in power: even as it critiques DeLay for his excesses, it attempts to "analyze" the politics of the race for the 22nd Congressional district by getting all the facts wrong, or simply ignoring them.

For example:

A special election to fill the rest of DeLay’s term, which expires in January, would have helped Lampson. The Republican vote would have split among several candidates, allowing Lampson to win—which is why Governor Perry chose to leave the seat vacant for now. The GOP nominee on the November ballot will be chosen by the method Eric Thode explained to DeLay’s staffer: The county chairs of the district’s four counties, along with one precinct chair from each county, will choose the nominee. If this were an ordinary Republican primary, the front-runners would be David Wallace, the mayor of Sugar Land, and Robert Eckels, a former state legislator who is now county judge of Harris County. But only eight votes matter, so anything could happen. For example, there has already been some discussion of the three non-Houston counties ganging up on the big city. Thode told me on the night DeLay quit that he expected the county chairs to meet fairly soon so that the chosen candidate could start campaigning.
Start at the top of that paragraph, and work your way down. A special election is required under Art. I, sec. 2, of the U.S. Constitution. Whether Perry can refuse to call one is an open question. It depends, just now, on when DeLay actually resigns. Which he hasn't done yet.

He's only announced that he will resign. Soon.

I don't know how much of a vacuum the courts have permitted in such situations; i.e., how far away from a regular election will the courts decide a special election is unnecessary? This is a key issue, because many factors, as I said before, are in play just now:

1) DeLay needs to resign in order to get his name off the ballot and to allow the GOP in Texas to replace him on the ballot. As the Texas Monthly article indicates, DeLay is no lawyer and apparently doesn't keep one on his staff. The article opens with a DeLay staff member calling the Fort Bend County GOP Chairman to ask about the procedure for replacing Delay on the ballot three months before he announced his resignation. Or rather, his intention to resign. As I say, he hasn't resigned yet.

2) If he doesn't resign within the right time frame, there could be a legal battle to keep his name on the ballot, something the Texas Monthly analysis never even considers.

3) There could also be a legal battle to force a special election. If DeLay leaves office close enough to November to obviate a special election (which Lampson, the Democrat, would probably win), is it too close under Texas law to get him off the ballot? And if he isn't off the ballot soon, how does another GOP member campaign for DeLay's seat?

Simple, obvious questions the article never even considers in its rush to declare the seat safely GOP. The article does a fairly good job of explaining DeLay's activities in the House, which were all and solely about accruing power. There is no law on the books with Tom DeLay's name on it (although there are many with his fingerprints deeply impressed into them). There is also no evidence that DeLay ever understood the law, except as a means of power. There is ample evidence DeLay still thinks that his will is law, or should be. As he said to Rush Limbaugh:

“No, there won’t be a special election,” .... “Texas has a law that there’s only two dates that you can have a special election, November and May, and this weekend the deadline for the May special election will have passed.”
I really don't know where he got that information, because he's just flat wrong. And the requirement for a special election is in the U.S. Constitution, which would overrule Texas law on this point, anyway. As Reuters reported:

An election could be held between May 13 and the November 7 vote if the governor, a Republican, wants it, but Perry's comment appeared to rule that out and raise the possibility the congressional seat could be empty for a while.

If the regular and special election are held on the same day, and there are two different winners, the winner of the special election would serve only until the winner of the regular election is sworn in January 2007.
Again, no mention of this in the Texas Monthly article.

And note, finally, that this e-mail from Fort Bend GOP chairman Thode was quoted by Fort Bend Now on April 5:

DeLay’s resignation “will lead the governor to declare the seat vacant and either set a special election or leave the seat vacant for the remainder of the term ending December 31,” Fort Bend County Republican Party Chairman Eric Thode said in an email to party faithful on Wednesday. “If one is called, the special election should have NO impact on how the place on the ballot gets filled. In fact, I would argue that it could impair the Republican Party in November.”
Somehow, though, that very partisan information didn't make it into the Texas Monthly article.

Gee, wonder why not?

Addendum: Burka writes:

But DeLay’s fall is not a tragedy, for he was not a victim of fate. He has no one to blame but himself.
This, of course, has nothing to do with tragedy. In fact, the great tragic heroes, like Oedipus, Creon in Antigone, or Lear, all fall from self-inflicted wounds. No, the reason DeLay is not a tragic figure is that he is not in the least sympathetic. No one bemoans his fall; most rational people cheer it.

DeLay has all the required elements of a tragic hero: a man of great power and influence, matched (and attained by )great hubris, which of course is his hamartia. He suffers not only a reversal of fortune, but a reversal of intention as well. And why? As Burka points out, the wounds are all self-inflicted. Even Burka can't quite see that DeLay's sins more than outweigh DeLay being "one of the ablest politicians of our time and an essential benefactor to his region and his state."

Burka inadvertently sums up DeLay's tenure in the midst of trying to point out that "everybody does it": "He didn’t care how blatant he came across, as long as he got the money." And that's precisely why DeLay is not a tragic figure. Not because his wounds were self-inflicted (they were); not because "everybody does it" (they do, but practice does not make illegal acts legal, or ethical); and not because DeLay is being attacked by a Democrat District Attorney.

It's because Tom DeLay generates about as much sympathy as the bugs he used to exterminate. And he seems to like it that way. It's because DeLay has absolutely no interest in the common good, and is only interested in what serves Tom DeLay, which is why he still hasn't resigned. Tragic heroes like Oedipus and Lear and Creon suffered because their hubris blinded them to the effects of their actions on the common good, and their punishment was just because of their selfishness. What is missing from politics today is precisely what DeLay lacked and Burka derides: a sense of the common good, of the public interest, that corrects and controls excesses. DeLay still doesn't understand that; and Paul Burka still doesn't understand that.

But if politics is to be redeemed, it will have to find that sense of common purpose, and place it at the center of political action again. Otherwise there is no hope, and no reason to hope; not for politics, at least.

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