Democracy will always need a sentry, Liberty will always need a voice and tyranny will always need an enemy

There’s a long tradition in the farewell speeches of American politicians, stretching back to George Washington himself, of warning against the dangers of party. Washington, of course, was warning against the prescient faction that opposed the earliest growth of cancerous federal power. Sometimes the warning is against one particular interest, as with Eisenhower’s warning against the “military-industrial complex” – the “complex” which won the Cold War preserving our freedom and gaining freedom for hundreds of millions, for what that’s worth. So, Tom Delay’s farewell speech today was a refreshing, if ironic, break from tradition, warning instead against the worship of consensus and bipartisanship as the tools of tyranny they too often are.

The point is: we disagree. On first principles, Mr. Speaker, we disagree. And so we debate — often loudly, and often in vain — to convince our opponents and the American people of our point of view. We debate here on the House floor. We debate in committees. We debate on television, and on radio, and on the Internet, and in the newspapers. And then every two years, we have a HUGE debate… and then in November we see who won.

That is not rancor.

That is democracy!

You show me a nation without partisanship, and I’ll show you a tyranny.

For all its faults, it is partisanship — based on core principles — that clarifies our debates, that prevents one party from straying too far from the mainstream, and that constantly refreshes our politics with new ideas and new leaders.

Indeed, whatever role partisanship may have played in my own retirement today — or in the unfriendliness heaped upon other leaders in other times, Republican and Democrat, however unjust — all we can say is that partisanship is the worst means of settling fundamental political differences… except for all the others.

Now, politics demands compromise, Mr. Speaker, and even the most partisan among us have to understand that. But we must never forget that compromise and bipartisanship are means, not ends, and are properly employed only in the service of higher principles.

It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first-principle. For true statesmen, Mr. Speaker, are not defined by what they compromise, but what they don’t…

Mr. DeLay also made a point that some in Congress would do well to understand. Greatness is a matter of principles, not of military service or of being born into the right family.

We honor men with Monuments not because of their greatness, or even simply because of their service, but because of their refusal — even in the face of danger or death — to ever compromise the principles they served.

Washington’s obelisk still stands watch because democracy will always need a sentry!

Jefferson’s words still ring because liberty will always need a voice!

And Lincoln’s left still stays clenched because tyranny will always need an enemy!

There certainly are enough self-styled statesmen in American politics today. Some are men who claim a right to office based on their service, but utterly lack the principles of true statesmen. Some race to abandon their parties and the principles voters expected their party affiliations to signify. I think we may be finding out too late that the House today lost the other kind of politician, a principled conservative and a statesman for whom there are two “principles that can never be honorably compromised: human freedom and human dignity.”

Tom DeLay

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