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Word has it that the just completed elections were about "values," and given that Republicans retained the White House and expanded their congressional majorities, the presumption is that the party of Tom DeLay is the best exemplar of those values.

This is how congressional Republicans interpret the meaning of the values election: They voted to scrap 11-year-old ethics rules so that DeLay could remain in his leadership post, even if a grand jury in his home state of Texas indicts him for a crime. What is more, the rule in question is one that DeLay supported when it was drafted in response to Democratic excesses.

What pundits, pollsters and other political observers evidently failed to comprehend is that the election was not simply about "values," but about "situational values." This election was acknowledgment that conduct describing an appalling lack of standards in some groups -- Democrats, say -- is less objectionable and even admirable when practiced by others, such as those in the party of DeLay.

That must be the case, since Republicans crowing about their inherent values would surely not turn about in the immediate aftermath of the values election and repudiate them. That would be hypocritical.

DeLay, the House majority leader, may be a target in a Texas investigation into whether corporate money was illegally used to help Republicans win state legislative races two years ago. Based on those victories, Republicans had the clout to redraw congressional district lines for the second time since the 2000 census, helping the party win five additional House seats this month.

Republicans dismiss the investigation by a Democratic district attorney as partisan. A congressional colleague of DeLay's, Henry Bonilla, described it this way to The New York Times: "Sometimes district attorneys who might have partisan agendas or want to read their name in the paper could make a name for themselves by indicting a member of the leadership, regardless of who it may be, and therefore determine their future. And that's not right."

Congressman Bonilla, meet Kenneth Starr.

Bonilla has a point, of course, but any process can be abused. The fact is that congressional Republicans insisted on this ethics change in 1993, and now they don't want it applied to themselves. They would rather risk having a leader with a criminal indictment pending against him than abide by the rule they, themselves, demanded.

The party of Tom DeLay? Lincoln must be weeping.

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