Republicans Spin Tom Delay’s Exit

Tom DeLay's future mugshot?The Republicans are nervously spinning Tom DeLay’s sudden withdrawal from his re-election campaign in Texas. Essentially they’re saying that it’s a good thing that he’s dropping out, because those nasty Democrats have been harassing Poor Ol’ Tom and making up nasty things about him.

Nevermind that Tom DeLay was admonished three times by the House ethics committee (which was predominantly Republican), that he had to resign as House majority leader because he was indicted on conspiracy charges in a campaign finance investigation in Texas, that two key DeLay staffers (one being Tony Rudy, his former deputy chief of staff) and lobbyist Jack Abramoff (whom DeLay had strong ties to) plead guilty in a federal corruption investigation, or that he helped create a symbiotic relationship between the House Republicans and Washington’s lobbying community, securing a steady stream of donations for his members and friendly legislation for business interests. His “K Street” connections also invited scrutiny and criticism that those with issues before Congress had to pay to play.

Poor Ol’ Tom. Those wacky Democrats are making much out of nothing.

House Republican leaders proclaimed that there’s going to be a fresh start for their legislative agenda, and vowed to act quickly to reform ethics laws. This all came after the news that DeLay is planning to resign his seat. They’re hoping people will buy the inference that “while Poor Ol’ Tom did nothing wrong, we’re not like him, really.”

My first question was this: How many times can they promise ethics reform? Their last ethics reform was to change the laws of the House so that Tom DeLay would not have to resign as House majority leader when he was facing admonishment on ethics violations. Then they appointed a bunch of Republicans to the House ethics committe who almost all had ties to Tom DeLay.

House majority leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican who succeeded DeLay in that position, said Republicans are responding to recent scandals in Washington. “We will take steps necessary to plug those areas where problems have erupted,” he said. He also said that ethics reform will be merely the first of many initiatives this spring, including a new fiscally responsible budget plan. Translation? It’s the new, improved Republican party! We’re not like Tom DeLay! Or, er, those other Republicans who are in trouble for ethics violations and criminal conspiracy. Can’t we all just get along?

Of course, Tom DeLay hasn’t been silent on this. He said, “I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal this seat with a negative, personal campaign. The times are too grave to waste even two years in the life of this nation — and allow even one more vote for their agenda of pessimism and failure.”

It would surprise me if DeLay’s statement didn’t illicit a collective giggle from those around him. For one thing, only DeLay could think that talking about his well documented ethics violations is unfair, while noting no apparent irony that his nickname is “The Hammer” because he’s never shied away from dirty politics.

In short, in true Republican fashion, the logic is that if a Democrat was to win DeLay’s seat in Texas, it would not be because he or she was elected by the people of that district, but because the Democrats’ “stole this seat.” Seems like the Republicans thought the same thing in Ohio during the presidential election, when those nasty Democrats were trying to steal the election by trying to get people to vote.

President Bush, who spoke with DeLay about his decision Monday afternoon, predicted that Republicans won’t suffer long-term consequences from the possible ethics violations of some of the party’s members. “My own judgment is … that our party will continue to succeed because we’re the party of ideas,” the president said.

I’m sure that led several people present to wonder, typically, what the hell the president was talking about. Oh, wait. Now that I think of it, the Republicans are the party of ideas. They’ve certainly come up with a lot of great ideas about how to get around annoying ethics and campaigns laws. Maybe that’s what he meant.

The problem is, you don’t just move on from people like Tom DeLay. This man was firmly in control of the House for years. DeLay’s ties to his fellow Republicans are too deep to remove his imprint from the GOP caucus simply by his resignation. Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat, said, “The next election will be a referendum on the system he set up. He’s a symbol of everything that’s wrong with Congress today.”

DeLay’s money machine flowed to House members across the country, and his “K Street Project” of pressing lobbyists to hire Republicans has left him with many close allies in Washington, said David Donnelly, campaign director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, a nonpartisan group that works to reduce the influence of money on politics.

“I don’t think you can simply remove DeLay from the picture and somehow have corruption removed from the equation,” Donnelly said. “Corruption in Congress goes beyond one man.”

Poor Ol’ Tom continues to proclaim his innocence on those criminal charges he is facing in connection with those alleged fund-raising irregularities. And most of DeLay’s Republican colleagues continue to stand behind him publicly; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert praised him as a “most effective“ member of House leadership. Boehner echoed those sentiments, calling it “unfortunate” and “sad”” that Poor Ol’ Tom, the Texas Republican, felt it was necessary to resign his House seat. He added that the accusations that have swirled around DeLay and other Republicans won’t have an impact on congressional races this fall. I’m surprised they don’t start singing “When I Wish Upon A Star.”

But Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Boston University, said DeLay’s resignation means that Republicans can no longer question the credibility of Democrats’ corruption charges. The scandal involving Abramoff, who mostly supported Republicans, could still ensnare other House members, he said.

DeLay “bowing out at any time is a huge loss for Republicans,” Zelizer said. “It’s a symbolic confirmation that the corruption charges are as serious as Democrats are saying.”

For myself, I think this is all a cause for celebration. Yes, it’s certainly true that this was a political move. There’s no way DeLay could have been re-elected to his seat in Texas. Recent polls showed that DeLay had, at best, a 50/50 chance of being re-elected in his home district, in a race that should have been a cakewalk. Removing himself from the race was one way in which DeLay hoped to rob Democrats of a chance of winning his seat, believing, in his arrogance, that it was only because of the accusations against him that a Democrat had a chance. Never mind recent polls that indicate that if the Congressional elections were held today, the Democrats would retake the House.

But it’s a good thing that this snake has been run out of political office. Tom DeLay is at the very center of this “culture of corruption” that the Democrats keep talking about. He’s the one who set up the money machine to extort or cajol money out of Washington lobbyists and other groups into the pockets of Republicans. It was DeLay who created the culture in which Washington politics became “pay to play,” taking full financial advantage of Republican control of Congress to perfect the buying and selling of political influence in Washington. All of which was designed to benefit the Republicans.

If we are edging ever closer to a one-party system of government in the United States, it’s because of corrupt hypocrites like Tom DeLay, who never misses a chance to talk about being a born-again Christian, while passing back and forth lobbyists’ money behind his back. He is the worse form a trash, and our democracy is better off without him.

All I can say is, “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

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