Democrats will celebrate Tom DeLay’s recent indictment because, well, it’s Tom DeLay. Anything bad that happens to Tom DeLay is good for Democrats. But, more importantly, is Tom DeLay’s indictment good for democracy?
DeLay was indicted for one count of criminal conspiracy for some unethical, and possibly illegal, campaign activities. If this indictment sets the bar for what constitutes criminal conspiracy, it’s time we take a good, long look at the actions of the current administration.
We could start by looking at the recount in Florida. In 2000, five Republican appointees on the Supreme Court conspired to end the recount and effectively put George W. Bush in office. Was their conspiracy criminal? Probably not. Was it motivated by partisan politics, and was their decision handed down on shaky legal grounds? Yes.
After Bush made it into the Oval Office, though, the conspiracies could really get started. Take, for example, the prelude to the war in Iraq. The Bush administration put forth a concerted effort to convince the American people and the world that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons and ties to al-Qaeda. George Bush told the American people that “a dictator is building and hiding weapons that could enable him to dominate the Middle East and intimidate the civilized world.” Colin Powell presented “airtight” evidence for the U.N. General Assembly. Dissenters — experts within the government who disagreed with the administration’s conclusions — were silenced. Only after we had fought a costly war did the Downing Street Memo emerge as an indictment of the Bush Administration for misleading the American public. A conspiracy to get us into war? Certainly. Criminal? Two thousand American dead, uncounted Iraqi dead, and $200 billion sure makes Tom DeLay’s $190,000 check seem like chump change.
Valerie Plame would have a pretty good reason to drag the administration into court on criminal conspiracy charges. That someone broke the law in releasing her name to Robert Novak is virtually unquestioned. And there’s pretty strong evidence that her name was released as part of a plan to silence her husband, who was raising some uncomfortable questions about the ‘evidence’ that Iraq had WMD.
In the last six years, we’ve seen gerrymandering, political coercion and outright lies from this administration. We’ve seen a vote on a key bill be extended for 20 minutes while leadership frantically tried to force fence-sitters to change their votes. We’ve seen political cronyism at its worst, with George W. Bush’s appointment of a horse expert to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We’ve seen torture in Iraq and confirmed an attorney general who thinks that torture might not be such a bad idea after all.
After witnessing the arrogance of this administration, its lack of respect for decorum and for rules, it’s tempting to applaud the indictment of DeLay as a victory for justice. I believe he’s innocent until proven guilty, but at least he’s being held accountable. What if, however, this indictment sets a precedent for what is OK and what’s not in Washington? What if this indictment says to future presidents and leaders: “It’s fine to lie to the American people and drag us into a war of choice that costs the lives of a couple thousand soldiers, as long as you watch your campaign contributions carefully.” Or: “As long as you aren’t dumb enough to let lobbyists buy you a plane ticket to Scotland, you can do anything you want to pass your agenda.” Do we really have enough tolerance for corruption that we don’t even care to hold this administration (and its co-conspirators) accountable?
Tom DeLay’s indictment is not a victory in the war against political corruption. It’s a victory for Democrats that may turn out to be a small victory for justice. But if criminal conspiracy continues to be defined the way it is in the indictment, business as usual will proceed in Washington. And conspiracies — which cost thousands of lives instead of thousands of dollars — will continue to pervade the high levels of government.
Xan White is a freshman in Calhoun College.