Tom DeLay is the Gordon Gekko of American politics. At least he was for one brief moment as he made his farewell speech on the floor of the House of Representatives last week.
Here is DeLay, praising excessive partisanship without compromise as a virtue of American politics:
"Because partisanship, Mr. Speaker — properly understood — is not a symptom of a democracy's weakness, but of its health and strength — especially from the perspective of a political conservative."
Now, here is Mr. Gekko, the corporate raider as played by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s movie “Wall Street”:
“The point is ladies and gentlemen that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of it's forms - greed for life, for money, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind and greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. Thank you.”
So one man praises partisanship and the other praises greed. But are these things really all that different? Isn’t partisanship at its core essentially greedy. A demand that everything has to be done just your way and no way else?
We are all guilty of partisanship in one form or another, and indeed there is a point to be made that staying true to your principles is a good thing. But compromise has always been the glue that has bound this country together and it is astonishing to hear the leader of the major political party today denouncing compromise as if it were some kind of vice.
Here is Tom DeLay speaking about compromise:
"It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle. For true statesmen, Mr. Speaker, are not defined by what they compromise, but what they don't."
Rick Casey had an excellent column in the Houston Chronicle the other day in which he recalls a defense of the art of compromise made by the historian Gary Wills in 1975.
His essay was titled "Hurrah for Politicians," whom he praised for "virtues that ignorant people take for vices."
The first among these was "compromise of principle."
As DeLay pointed out, sometimes compromise is necessary. But, Wills argued, "The true test of a politician comes when he does not have to compromise, yet finds a way to do so."
By compromising when he doesn't need to, a politician makes friends of associates he will at some point be forced to oppose, and he gathers debts of varying force that he can call in the service of his constituents.
Most importantly, said Wills, "compromise is just another name for the discipline all vote-getters must profess. It is representation. Without compromise, a politician would not represent anything or anyone but himself."
Perhaps that is the best way to sum up Tom DeLay. He successfully represented himself. He is a Christian conservative, so everyone has to be a Christian conservative and do things his way.