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.
The line reeks of the arrogance and self-importance that may bring DeLay low, but it's also 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. 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.
If DeLay goes down, his shamelessness will go with him, which will make it harder to see the GOP's true agenda. Take the assault on federal judges. DeLay first asserted that they must "answer for their behavior" in the Schiavo case. His "apology" consisted of adding: "We set up the courts. We can unseat the courts. We have the power of the purse."
At a recent strategy session sponsored by Tony Perkins' Family Research Council and James Dobson's Focus on the Family, discussion focused on getting rid of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which the right wing deems too liberal. Perkins and Dobson reminded the group that they need not impeach judges, they can simply de-fund them, as DeLay recommends.
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 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.