Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Fall of Tom DeLay?

   And to that I say, "good, now let's get on with House business."

   The story broke yesterday, quite literally, as I was turning off the television to walk out of the door. Afterward, I caught a few pieces on the story, but didn't really feel like getting into it until this morning. (Why do all of the big stories break when I take time off?)

   I am inclined to agree with The Jawa Report's analysis of the situation:

Tom Delay should resign from Congress. Did he do anything illegal? I've no idea. Campaign finance laws are like the tax code: so complicated as to lose all meaning to the average citizen. But whether or not Delay broke any laws is beside the point in my mind. He is the poster child for the peddling of Washington's largess to special interests.

He is the Republican version of Dan Rostenkowski. Did Rostenskowski break some minor federal laws? Perhaps, but the larger problem with the former Democratic Ways and Means Committee Chair was not that he committed 'mail fraud' but that he used his position in Congress to take my money away from me and give to his constituents, his campaign donors, and his ideological allies.

* * *

Is Ronnie Earle a partisan hack? That's a given. But even partisan hacks sometimes get it right, even when they are motivated by, well, partisanship. I've no idea if he's gotten it right here, but again, that is the least of my concerns.


   I am hesitant to call for DeLay's resignation from the House at this time, but I think that The Jawa Report might be on to something. Perception is a profound influence on the electorate, if not the only one. Removing Delay from the picture makes it more difficult for the Democrats to paint the House with their "culture of corruption" sound bite, something I heard CNN's Joe John's use verbatim perhaps three times in two minutes this morning. (I suppose this means that congratulations are in order for Nancy Pelosi, who actually got a message to stick overnight for once.)

   As for the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, is he a "partisan hack?" I don't know, but I have one immediate nagging concern. The best defense against his status as a partisan I have heard his defenders offer is that he has prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans. So what? If he had not, I would be really concerned since Travis County -- or, the city of Austin, as it is known more broadly -- is a Democratic stronghold. That Earle himself acknowledges that "power cannot be abused by those who lack it" is heartening, but you would think that his friends and supporters could offer something more. It's rather like Ted Kennedy making a big deal about supporting more Republican nominees to the Supreme Court than Democrat nominees when, in the time he has been a senator there have been (off the top of my head) roughly double the number of Republican nominees. The argument only works when the two groups are of roughly equal size, and they aren't even close in Austin, Texas.

   As a corrollary to this, look at the results Earle got in his prosecutions. Specifically, look at the apparent game of chicken he played with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 1994, when he completely dropped the charges as the case was getting ready to go to trial. Republicans familiar with the case still that whole episode was a prosecutorial travesty, and probably for good reason, though whether Earle is a partisan or merely displays flashes of incompetence, or neither, is still subject of some debate.

   And this is why I am not yet convinced that Tom DeLay should resign his seat altogether at this time, for he sets a chilling precedent if he does. If DeLay resigns his seat now, regardless of the outcome of these charges, then any member of the House will be pressured to do the same when he is placed in the role of the proverbial "ham sandwich," regardless of whether the prosecutor is motivated by partisanship or not. These prosecutions take a long time to reach resolution; the pillars of principle surrounding such a legislator (and, perhaps his party) are sure to crumble under the weight of public pressure applied for so long. Now that DeLay has stepped down from his leadership post, the rest of us -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- should consider very carefully the ramifactions of the doubtlessly numerous proposals bound to come out of this fiasco between now and its conclusion.

4 Comments:

Anonymous KS said...

You hit the nail on the head here:

"Perception is a profound influence on the electorate, if not the only one."

Clinton's sexual escapades gave the GOP the ammunition they needed to brand all Democrats as immoral liberals. That's not true of course, but it was a sound bite they and the religious right managed to capitalize on with good results.

The problem for the GOP now is that Tom DeLay is not the only person in their party tainted by scandal. If you add in Frist, Rove, Abramhoff and the others, the perception that all Republicans are unethical and corrupt begins to gel in the voter's mind. This latest incident could be the kiss of death for the GOP next year, especially since the American public is not too happy with the way they've been running this country lately.

To get back to DeLay, we'll have to wait and let the judicial system determine DeLay's innocence or guilt. However, if he was so convinced he did nothing wrong, why did he try to get the House to manipulate the rule requiring him to step down far in advance of this indictment? That sure gives the perception that he knew he was guilty and this might happen.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Bostonian Exile said...

However, if he was so convinced he did nothing wrong, why did he try to get the House to manipulate the rule requiring him to step down far in advance of this indictment?

You may have a point, but there is a difference between being certain that you did nothing wrong and, for example, being certain that you are not going to be indicted for actions taken that fall within the letter of the law if not its spirit. I'm willing to bet that, at a minimum, he took some kind of action within the grey area of Texas election law (of which I have absolutely no familarity). DeLay has proven himself comfortable in grey areas in the past: sometimes to his benefit and sometimes to his detriment.

That said, he had to know that the mantra of "simply returning the rule to its state when the Democrats were in charge" simply was not going to fly for more than a day or two.

While I can understand the impulse to retain at all costs a position that took a lot of work (and arm-twisting) to acheive, there comes a time when you have to realize that the game is up.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Midwestern Progressive said...

"I am hesitant to call for DeLay's resignation from the House at this time..."

It might surprise, but I'm inclined to agree here.

Texas voters can elect anyone they like, as far as I'm concerned.

I think Republican voters nationwide, though, need to exercise their vocal chords when it comes to who participates in Republican Party leadership.

If you vote Republican, then in his leadership role, Tom DeLay represented you.

I felt the same way during the Clinton/Lewinski scandal - he represented me at the time, and whenever I read about it, I felt like I needed a shower afterwards.

I definitely did not think that Clinton's behavior was an impeachable offense (but I would never have allowed, say, a young daughter of mine serve as his "intern") and I don't think DeLay's behavior (at this point) calls for him resigning his seat.

But were I a Republican, I would have been screaming from the rooftops ages ago to remove him from my party's leadership.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous The Impolitic said...

But it is a culture of corruption. Which is not to say that Dems don't indulge in the same lifestyle when they're in power, but this administration and Congress have taken it to an unprecedented level.

12:04 PM  

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