Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay spoke on his self-taught foundations in politics and how he shaped his views on freedom at the third annual Emory University Pre-Law Society speaker event Wednesday.
A crowd of about 60 Emory students gathered in the Glenn Memorial Auditorium for the event, which was co-sponsored by the College Republicans and CSAmerica.
"I'm not as partisan as people make me out to be," DeLay said. "I'm a conservative first and a Republican second."
DeLay said his beliefs were rooted in the Bible and in the history of American freedom. The lack of freedom he experienced as a child in Venezuela, along with other events in his early life, were crucial in shaping his beliefs, he said. When he was self-employed working in pest control, he said he was frustrated with the effect of government-imposed taxes on his income.
"It drove me crazy seeing the government interfere with life and family," DeLay said. He said that this unwelcomed interference by the government contributed to his decision to run for political office in the Texas legislature.
DeLay said he ran his campaign based on a "how-to" book on politics that he had purchased, and continued to be self-taught on legislation and the Constitution throughout his political career.
He emphasized his support for less government intervention in everyday life, saying he was a "free-market nut."
DeLay said that changing the government as a Republican was difficult because the former Republican majority had to "address threats on freedom" imposed by government programs, adding that he wished to curtail congressional spending and reduce the size of the welfare program.
"The bigger the government is, the less freedom you have," he said. DeLay said that serving in the government took a toll on his personal life in the beginning. He said that when he joined Congress, he led a poor personal life until he "found Christ and freedom from the chains of sin."
When Delay shared his views on abortion, many members of the audience expressed their disagreement by grumbling in response.
DeLay closed with a quote from Barry Goldwater and said there should be "moderation in the pursuit of justice" through government activity.
In a discussion following the lecture, about 20 students participated in a question-and-answer session with DeLay. Questions addressed the correlation between the war on terror and taxes, what DeLay thought of the federal government's response to housing foreclosures, and his past involvement with former lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a high-profile campaign scandal in 2005.
"I thought parts of his speech were rational and parts made him sound like a crazy person," said senior Zach Reinstein, who asked a question about the discrepancy between DeLay's conservative respect for freedom and his support of secret military and surveillance projects.
Reinstein said that DeLay would make rational points and then seem to go off on random, unrelated tangents.
Kevin Semanick, assistant coach of the Emory men's track team, rebuked DeLay for his stance on torture, asking if DeLay was supporting freedom for Americans but not for the rest of the world. Semanick asked if Jesus "would support the Iraq war," questioning DeLay's religious stance. In response, DeLay said that he did not believe the actions of the American soldiers could be classified as torture.
College sophomore Brian Teeter said he thought DeLay's speech was extremely conservative and closed-minded.
"He didn't seem to consider views that wouldn't cater to the conservative ideology, and his inadequate question responses showed it," Teeter said. But Teeter said he thought it was interesting to hear the viewpoint of conservative figure in a school that is "consistently liberal." "
College senior Diana Zelikovich, president of Emory's Pre-Law Society, said the Pre-Law Society does not necessarily endorse their speaker's viewpoints. But she said the Society has a mission to educate Emory students about law, and bringing Delay to speak at Emory fulfilled that mission.
"He offered an interesting perspective on the creation of laws and how they affect freedoms," she said. "And we wanted to bring someone interesting, not necessarily with a law degree but who is involved with law and politics."
© 2008 Emory Wheel via U-WIRE