Do We Forgive Politicians Too Easily?

Tom DeLay's dance performance prompts the question of whether Americans are too swayed by disgraced politicians' redemption campaigns

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What does Tom DeLay's hip-wagging, lip-synching, air-guitar-strumming performance on "Dancing with the Stars" Monday night say about the American public in the Reality TV Age? Some writers argue it's a sign that we're a little too easily seduced by disgraced politicians out to rehabilitate their image. But if their skeptical reactions offer any indication, DeLay's redemption campaign didn't succeed in swaying everyone.

  • An Embarrassing Stab at Redemption  Maureen Dowd at The New York Times claimed Wednesday that watching the former Republican House majority leader, who resigned in 2006 amid charges of violating campaign finance laws, shimmy "away from an indictment and onto 'Dancing'" served as "a blazing reminder that in our lowbrow-loving, no-attention-span culture, most any scoundrel can do the redemption tango simply by being a good sport."
  • Terrible Dance, But a Great Diversion  Today, on the same op-ed page, Gail Collins strikes a similar tone:
His performance did create the kind of uncomfortable feeling you experienced when your crusty Uncle Fred got drunk at your graduation party and tried to sing "My Way." But I bet not a single person watching DeLay slide across the floor on his rhinestone-encrusted knees with that manic grin on his face was thinking: "Gee, I wonder how that money-laundering indictment is working out for him?"

Collins extends her logic to Sarah Palin’s Hong Kong speech Wednesday:

Given that she started the day as a celebrity whose deepest recorded thought was how only dead fish go with the flow, this was quite a triumph. If Palin can arrange to make all her future speeches in Asia, with no reporters present and tons of money falling out of the ceiling at every stop, I think she has a real shot at rehabilitation.
  • 21st Century Penance  Holly Bailey at Newsweek characterizes DeLay's appearance on the show as "penance for the wrongs he committed," and adds, "disgraced politicians choose many paths of redemption, but never did we imagine his resurrection would involve gratuitous booty shaking, cringe-inducing lip syncing and a knee slide straight out of Footloose 2: The Grandpa Years."

But for Jonathan Martin at Politico, DeLay won points for earnestness, coming across more as a "man on a mission," than a "politician going through the motions":

He wanted it - bad. A pol worried about his public image wouldn't have gone to such lengths. Wouldn't have rocked the air guitar. Wouldn't have gotten down on his knees. Wouldn't have done the finger-pointy thing. And he definitely wouldn't have shaken his tailfeather.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.