WASHINGTON-MANY JOURNALISTS, ACCUSTOMED to thinking of liberals as warm-hearted and conservatives as mean-spirited, may have a tough time with Tom DeLay, the new majority leader in the House of Representatives.
Mr. DeLay should be easy. He ran an exterminator business before hopping into politics: Aha, let's write that he poisoned insects and sees Democrats as only one thumb up from cockroaches. He's spent eight years as the House majority whip: Aha, let's evoke thoughts of sadism. Mr. DeLay's determined fundraising techniques gave him the nickname "The Hammer": Aha, he sees all his opponents as nails. Even the name is useful: Aha, he has no vision of his own, and can merely delay the inevitable victory of progressive thought.
A spin through the Lexis-Nexis database shows journalists using all these gambits. But in a few stories, a disconcerting element arises. Veteran liberal columnist Mary McGrory started a column on Mr. DeLay with three bone-chilling words, "He strikes fear," and followed that with a reference to "The Hammer" and Mr. DeLay's "ferocious skills." But then she noted an apparent anomaly: "DeLay as the champion of poor, luckless, loser kids? Some colleagues, especially Democrats who have experienced the rough side of his tongue and the chill of his laser-beam gaze, wonder."
It turns out that, as Ms. McGrory reported, "DeLay and his wife, Christine, have taken three troubled teenage foster children into their Houston home." Mr. DeLay has been active in working for neglected and abused kids in the District of Columbia. Mrs. DeLay is heading an effort to establish a residential facility in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston, for kids who otherwise would be bounced around from foster home to foster home.
How do liberal journalists fit Mr. DeLay's activities into the "mean-spirited conservative" grid? It's easiest to ignore them, or to assume that Mr. DeLay is cynically using foster kids in an attempt to change his image. But having a foster home is very hard work, and it's a lot easier to accumulate political brownie points by co-hosting a charity ball.
Besides, Mr. DeLay is a straight-shooter who passionately talks about only what he passionately feels. When Nick Eicher, Joel C. Rosenberg, and I interviewed him recently in his Capitol office, I'd like to say that our incisive questions led to a conceptual breakthrough on his part, so that at the end of our late-in-the-day session he said, "Yes! Now I fully understand how to save the Republic!" Alas, nothing of the sort happened. After a full day of other meetings, I suspect he was going through the motions during our time together. But Mr. DeLay got excited at one point: when he talked about foster care. "Every time you take a child out of a home he goes through the grieving process," he said. "You can imagine the scar tissue that has built up."
How do reporters who can't ignore his passion handle the apparent anomaly? U.S. News & World Report discerned dualism: Mr. DeLay has a dark side and a small angelic side. After linking Mr. DeLay with words like "evil ... manipulative ... mean-spirited ... puppet master," that magazine reported it had "stumbled across another side" of Mr. DeLay, and noted that concerning foster care he had "turned in his horns for a halo."
That's putting Christians like Mr. DeLay in a box. Journalists often ask questions like, "How can you care about the poor but also favor measures that force them to work?" (Because they should be treated as adults, not pets.) "How can you be pro-life but also support capital punishment in some cases?" (The goal is to protect innocent life.) "Since you're broad-minded in many areas, why do you favor a narrow standard of personal morality concerning marriage?" (Because the Bible says adultery is wrong.)
Washington journalists could understand more about Mr. DeLay and many others if they undertook two kinds of research. First, they should visit Mr. DeLay's Sugarland-area district. Last year I spoke at a dinner of the Fort Bend County Christian Coalition and met the people who gave Mr. DeLay his political start. They talk and sing patriotic songs without David Letterman irony.
Second, journalists should read the Bible, and maybe come to see that Christianity transcends both liberalism and conservatism. Journalists who see how and why some folks take the Bible seriously will understand the supposed inconsistency of Tom DeLay-and in the process learn more about true inconsistencies in the lives of many who do not worship God.