A political party is in big trouble when a criminal indictment may be the best thing that could happen to it. Yet it may well be that the indictment by a Texas grand jury of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay finally prods GOP biggies to stumble before a mirror and take a long look at what they have become. Only a mother could love the bleary, bloated faces staring back.
Forget whether DeLay, who has stepped aside as majority leader, is guilty of a conspiracy to violate Texas campaign law. It is quite possible that he will be exonerated, given Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earl's record of indicting Lone Star State big fish -- GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and former Democrat Attorney General Jim Mattox -- only to see to the cases crumble and juries acquit.
Besides, the state of election law these days is such that a politician practically has to take out a paid advertisement announcing that he broke the law before he is held accountable.
DeLay most certainly is guilty of losing touch with the American public. You could see it in his recent statement that the GOP-controlled Congress had cut all the fat in federal spending. Even before Katrina, domestic spending -- not including homeland security and defense -- rose $303 billion since 2001, according to the American Conservative Union. Yet DeLay, who says he wants less government, declared "victory" on overspending.
"The Hammer" also is guilty of rolling around in too much money. The indictment concerns charges of money laundering that involve a political action committee controlled by DeLay which apparently had so much cash on hand it could pass it through to other committees, and end up helping Texas candidates. At worst, the case involves the laundering of $190,000 in illicit corporate contributions; at best, it is a sign that the DeLay machine was raising too much money.
DeLay also is guilty of living too large. He traveled in lavish style to South Korea and the United Kingdom. The Washington Post followed the money and found that the trips may well have been funded with cash laundered by a registered foreign-agent and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Abramoff, you should know, is the target of criminal and congressional investigations involving the millions he was paid from casino-owning Indian tribes. His ties to DeLay, other GOP members and a former White House aide, David Safavian, who was indicted this month, suggest that the Texas charges will not be the end of DeLay's or the GOP's woes.
Ellen Miller, of the left-leaning Campaign for America's Future, predicted on a conference call Wednesday that Rep. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, would be the next GOP shoe to drop. The Washington Post has reported that Ney has hired a criminal lawyer, as his name appear in e-mails being studied by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is looking into Abramoff's dealings with big-casino tribes.
DeLay also is guilty of playing it too cute. The House ethics committee has chastised him for offering a political favor in exchange for a vote, for asking federal aviation workers to check on a plane during a Lone Star political squabble and for appearing at an energy-company fund-raiser that seemed too cozy. So when it looked as if the ethics folks might fault him for his own personal Travelgate, DeLay, with the help of Speaker Dennis Hastert, ousted Chairman Joel Hefley, R-Colo., and tried to rig House rules.
Defiant in his own defense, DeLay faulted "the politics of personal destruction" Wednesday. No, like the GOP giant Newt Gingrich before him, DeLay should recognize the politics of self-destruction. It's an old story. A scrappy young man goes to Washington to change the political culture, only to become the very things he once resented -- a defender of bloated government and a party hack who put power before principle. But he doesn't change the system, it changes him.
Over time, he is surrounded by committee chairmen and other long-timers who think as he does. They're so important, they decide, taxpayers should excuse their indulgences and subsidize their pork -- just to keep them in office.
Until the day they realize that their fearless leader could cost them re-election. Then, it's man overboard.