May 21, 2004,
If Tom DeLay is acting out of his Born-Again Christian convictions in pushing legislation that disadvantages the poor every time he opens his mouth, I'm not saying he's not a Born-Again Christian, but as the Lord's humble fruit inspector, it sure looks suspicious to me." That was Joe Hough, a liberal minister and ethics professor, on Bill Moyers's PBS show last year. It's about par for the course whenever DeLay's name comes up among Democrats "mean" and "cruel" are typically used. It's almost always personal.
Well, it doesn't take a humble "fruit inspector" to recognize the unfair and judgmental tone adopted here. Because DeLay doesn't want to expand the welfare state, it doesn't mean that he doesn't believe in Christian charity. Fortunately, some people can look beyond politics to see that. Ruth Massinga, president and CEO of Casey Family Programs, for example, this week presented the House majority leader with a leadership award "for his longstanding and impassioned commitment to bettering the lives and educational opportunities for children in foster care." Casey has been working for the past 38 years to improve with the eventual aim of eliminating the nation's foster-care system.
The past recipients of the award are two liberal Democrats Senator Jack Reed (R.I.) and Congressman George Miller (Calif.). This year they are honoring someone who truly believes that charity begins at home. DeLay has focused national attention on improving foster care but has also shown that no amount of government regulation can take the place of a loving family's care.
While liberals might refer to him as "the Hammer" and dub him the "Meanest Man in Congress," DeLay has a compassionate side that cannot be ignored. His advocacy for foster children is something that even the most hardened liberals begrudgingly applaud him for. For many years now, DeLay has been working to improve the foster-care system.
DeLay has raised over $1.5 million for Child Advocates of Fort Bend County in Texas, a nonprofit group that helps abused and neglected children. In addition, DeLay and his wife are raising money for the Oaks at River Bend, a community that will provide a permanent, stable environment for abused and neglected foster children. In addition, he has helped to streamline and increase the effectiveness of federal foster-care programs. He is also credited with the creation of the Washington, D.C. Family Court after the death of toddler Brianna Blackmond, who was killed after being removed from foster care and sent back to her mentally unstable mother's care.
As Adrienne Hahn, vice president of public policy for Casey, put it on Thursday, "DeLay's heart is in this issue. It's very personal to him." DeLay has worked with many child-advocacy groups and, over the years, he and his wife Christine have raised three foster children. All of them were troubled teenagers who had been bounced around from home to home.
DeLay spoke on Thursday about his foster child who graduated from college last week and emphasized how important it is to not forget about children once they turn 18. "We need to let foster children see that they are worthy, that they can finish high school and go to college." He pointed out that many foster children are completely on their own after they reach the legal age of adulthood. "They're all alone, all by themselves. They may be in college, but they have no place to go home for Thanksgiving dinner."
Casey Family Programs has been active and successful in their quest to bring advocates together in the areas of higher education and child welfare to care for neglected older foster children. They have also done the seemingly impossible once bringing Hillary Clinton and DeLay to work together for foster children. In the same room, no less.
The award presented to DeLay was greatly deserved, and it is a testament to his devotion to the cause that he is admired by liberals and conservatives alike on this issue. A Houston Chronicle columnist once said of him: "Even Beelzebub probably gets one right every millennium or so."
The satanic comparisons are hardly warranted. It's time that the liberals on Capitol Hill acknowledge that DeLay's support of foster children is not inconsistent with his other principles, be they Christian or political. DeLay knows firsthand that when it comes to abused children, all the Democrats' social spending is worthless compared to the value of having a real family. It's nice to know that for all the noisy debate in Washington, even the hardest-nosed politician in Washington knows the importance of setting a personal example that matches his political rhetoric.
Meghan Keane is a National Review editorial associate.