For Shame

Yesterday, the Justice Department formally cleared former House Speaker Tom DeLay of any charges of corruption in relation to the Jack Abramoff scandal. DeLay, who resigned after being indicted on unrelated financial corruption charges in Texas back in 2006, is still awaiting his day in court on those charges.

Now, I’ve never really liked DeLay. Something about him rubbed me the wrong way. He struck me as the kind of person who should be kept away from the reins of power, for a variety of reasons.

But not kept away by any means. Not by bullshit trumped-up bogus criminal charges.

DeLay always said that he was the victim of a vindictive prosecutor, and the evidence seems to back that up. Ronnie Earle, the district attorney, tried to get a grand jury to indict DeLay. They refused. So he got another one, who did — but only by violating the Constitution, and charging him with breaking a law before it went into effect. That one got tossed. It was the third grand jury that issued the indictment that got DeLay to resign, and that’s when Earle seemed to lose interest in pursuing “justice” — nothing has happened in the case in over three years.

But that’s all background and context for a trend I’ve noticed: how many Republicans tend to “resign in disgrace.”

Tom DeLay. Richard Nixon. Eliot Spitzer. Mark Foley. Newt Gingrich. Bob Packwood. Bob Livingston.

On the other hand, Democrats who are caught misbehaving tend to cling fiercely to their titles and the trappings of power, usually saying that they will “trust the voters to decide” if they are still worthy of remaining in office — even in the face of indictment, impeachment, or corruption charges. Bill Clinton. Charlie Rangel. Maxine Waters. Jack Murtha. Ted Kennedy. Dianne Feinstein. Tim Geithner. Barney Frank. William “Cold Cash” Jefferson. Christopher Dodd. Rod Blagojevich. Dan Rostenkowski.

Obviously this is not a comprehensive list, and there are exceptions on both sides. Some Republicans caught in scandal refuse to go — Mark Sanford and David Vitter come to mind. Likewise, every now and then a Democrat does the honorable thing — Jim McGreevey, Mel Reynolds, and… um… hey, help me out here, folks. I’m drawing a blank.

Why this discrepancy? I have a theory, that’s only part snark. It’s related to why conservatives tend to be far more susceptible to charges of “hypocrisy.”

It’s because that, generally, conservatives tend to feel more shame than liberals. Liberals are shameless.

When a conservative is caught up in a scandal, there is a touch of hypocrisy, as conservatives are usually viewed as the ones who are speaking on behalf of virtue and morality. On the other hand, we don’t hold those same expectations of liberals. In effect, we expect them to be amoral, corrupt scumbags, as they never promised to be anything but.

In other words, the scumbags in both parties are wretched, but at least the liberals didn’t promise to not be scumbags.

Yeah, a gross oversimplification of the situation. Yeah, I’m playing in stereotypes. But like most stereotypes, I think there’s at least a couple of grains of truth at its core.

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