Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Cage Match

Should DeLay stay or should he go?

  • David Corn and the editors of The Nation lay out the reasons for Tom DeLay to resign:

    Tom DeLay should resign as leader of the House Republican majority. If he doesn’t, Republicans should have the decency to remove him. He’s been rebuked unanimously four times by the bipartisan House Ethics Committee–which he then proceeded to purge and disembowel. Three of his political associates are under indictment in Texas for raising illegal corporate campaign contributions. He’s luxuriated in lavish junkets on the tab of crooked lobbyists and foreign agents. He’s given “family values” a new meaning by paying his wife and daughter $500,000 from his PACs for part-time work. And one of his cronies, “Casino Jack” Abramoff, who is under investigation for bilking Indian tribes and pressing them to donate to the GOP, says DeLay “knew everything” about what was going on.

    Corruption isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a partisan issue. DeLay isn’t in trouble because he’s a conservative, as he claims. He’s in trouble because he is “The Hammer,” the “undisputed and unapologetic master”–as the Wall Street Journal puts it–of a Republican-controlled Congress whose hallmark is the flagrant exchange of legislative favors for campaign contributions.


    The Republican National Committee talking points in defense of DeLay dismiss his troubles as partisan politics and suggest that his effective leadership will be demonstrated by moving forward with the Republican agenda. But that agenda–a bankruptcy bill designed by the credit card companies, tort “reform” sculpted by companies to limit their liability for injuries caused by their negligence, a Big Oil energy bill that ladles out subsidies to every energy producer while increasing our dependence on foreign oil–doesn’t distract from DeLay’s corruption but exemplifies it.

    A small group of public interest organizations–the Campaign for America’s Future, Public Campaign Action Fund, Common Cause, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington–have led the charge against DeLay and done a commendable job of bringing his abuses to public attention. They’ve shaken the system enough to get Republicans on the ethics committee to try to make the controversy go away by offering to set up a carefully managed “investigation” of DeLay in return for Democratic endorsement of rules changes that would gut the committee’s ability to fight corruption. Democrats should stand firm for a real investigation and do what Republicans already charge they are doing: Use DeLay’s excesses to expose the corruption of the Congressional majority. Even as they do this, Democrats should make themselves into the party of reform, offering proposals to curb lobbyists, expose the back rooms to sunlight and move toward clean elections that limit the role of big money in politics.


    Americans tend to be pretty cynical about politicians and think corruption is widespread. But periodically, when the stench gets particularly bad, they realize it’s time to clean out the stables. By 2006 Democrats may find the public ready to do just that. But DeLay’s ouster cannot wait that long. He must go–now.

  • Jonathon Alter in Newsweek offers reasons why DeLay must stay.

    A couple of years ago, Tom DeLay was chomping on a cigar at a Washington restaurant with some lobbyists. The manager went over to tell him he couldn’t smoke because the restaurant was located on property leased from the federal government, which bars smoking. “I am the federal government,” DeLay replied, in words that will follow the onetime exterminator from Sugar Land, Texas, like ants at a picnic.

    The line reeks of the arrogance and self-importance that may bring DeLay low, but it also has the advantage of being true: all three branches of the federal government belong to Republicans, and the autocratic House majority leader is the purest representation of the breed. On every issue—ethics, the environment, guns, tax cuts, judges—he is a clarifying figure for anyone who might be confused about the true nature of today’s GOP.

    So assuming he dodges indictment, DeLay should stay in his post for 18 months, until the 2006 midterm elections. Even if his legendary gerrymandering has made it unlikely that the Democrats will regain control of Congress, at least the voters—who now, finally, have heard of this guy—would have a clearer decision about where the country should go. His potential successors are all just as conservative as DeLay, but they seem colorless and would thus fuzz up the choice. The midterms should be a referendum on DeLay’s America. Stay on the right fringe or move toward the center? Let the people decide.

    Some Democrats aren’t buying. Sure, it would be nice to have “the Hammer” around as a bogeyman for direct-mail solicitations, they say, but he should step down. They claim that his death by a thousand cuts is, as Democratic Rep. Harold Ford puts it, “a big distraction from all that we are trying to do.”

    Actually, that’s an argument for keeping DeLay around. We should want the 109th Congress “distracted” and kept from returning to normal business for as long as possible. Anything the Democrats are “trying to do” won’t get done anyway. And what the Radical Republicans are trying to do is usually bad—from cutting taxes further amid monster deficits to immunizing polluters in the energy bill (which won’t do a thing, as even proponents admit, to cut gas prices), to subjecting Social Security to the whims of the stock market. It was once conservatives who thought Congress should legislate less. Now this should be the Democratic mantra: Don’t do anything. Just stand there!


    Sure, it’s wrong when DeLay takes Scottish golf outings courtesy of Indian casinos or lets lobbyists write bills or turns the House ethics committee from a bipartisan panel into his own personal Laundromat, bent on cleaning his reputation. This is the same man who asked in 1995: “Are they [representatives] feeding at the public trough, taking lobbyist-paid vacations, getting wined and dined by special-interest groups? Or are they working hard to represent their constituents? The people have a right to know.”

    But this smelly hypocrisy — assuming it’s not found illegal — merely offends the senses. DeLay’s views on muscling the judiciary and ending the separation of church and state (which he believes is a fiction) offend the Constitution. That makes it too important to leave to the media and the rest of the Washington scandal machine to remedy. This job belongs to the voters, who can hammer the Hammer by siding against his many acolytes in Congress. Let’s make 2006 a referendum on the right wing. For that, DeLay must stay.

    Okay, readers, you make the call: who makes the better case?