Democrats can choose their own path, but Republicans better not be too anxious to throw House Republican Leader Tom DeLay under the bus.
I am not saying DeLay should be exempt from scrutiny, House rules or the law. But he is certainly entitled to a presumption of innocence, which should remain until a credible case for his misconduct has been proven.
But that's not how certain Democratic leaders have things sized up. Congressman Charles Rangel said, essentially, that DeLay has the burden of demonstrating he did nothing wrong. Now, this is certainly an interesting standard to be invoked by a man who considers himself a champion of civil rights.
Some argue that DeLay should step down as Leader because allegations of unethical behavior against someone in such an important position set a bad example and poison the governmental waters.
I think DeLay's powerful position happens to cut the other way. That is, I think he has been so important to advancing the conservative agenda that he ought not bow out unless he has actually done something wrong. If the opposition party's miracle antidote for an effective majority agenda is to lodge allegations against a majority party's leader, the majority party should never hope to accomplish much of anything.
It is important that we separate the issue of DeLay's conduct from the conduct, motivations and hypocrisy of his accusers. If he has done something that warrants his expulsion, he should resign -- regardless of whether the whole lot of his detractors are guilty as sin.
But separating the issues does not mean focusing on one (the allegations against DeLay) and ignoring the other. We do need to inquire into the conduct, motivations and hypocrisy of his accusers, especially when they might bear on the credibility of those accusers.
I believe the reason politicians like Charles Rangel, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are willing to condemn DeLay on the strength of the charges alone, is that their mindset is that he is inherently guilty by virtue of his ideology.
In their view, conservatives -- especially ones who believe in their principles with every fiber of their being and, worse, are effective at advancing the right-wing policy agenda -- are already evil. To discover ethical or legal infractions by such people is merely confirmation of what is already true in nature -- conservatives are guilty: of religious zealotry, favoring the rich, exploiting the poor, racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. (And DeLay is even worse than most evil conservatives, because he is arrogant, meaning he is not intimidated by their liberal "Highnesses.")
So while it would be unthinkable for a reasonable person to suggest that someone -- even a politician -- ought to have to prove his innocence, it is perfectly reasonable to demand that of one as presumptively sinister as Tom DeLay. (If you think I'm exaggerating, all you have to do is recall the venom constantly directed against DeLay, way before he was ever accused of infractions of any kind, other than endorsing an ideological agenda liberals find repugnant.)
DeLay is just another in a long line of victims whose major crime is unabashed conservatism. If the Left can demonize someone as aboveboard as I personally know John Ashcroft to be, and if they can with a straight face paint Kenneth Starr as a sex-obsessed ne'er do well, they can ruin anyone -- mostly with impunity.
At this point -- as others have cogently written -- it doesn't appear that Mr. DeLay has done anything worthy of being ousted as House Leader. He can hardly be crucified for paying family members from campaign funds for legitimate work they performed when House rules expressly authorize the practice -- because it is permitted by congressional regulations. He can hardly be cashiered for a trip to Moscow paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, not Russian companies. He can hardly be faulted for a trip to South Korea funded by an organization that had only very recently registered as a foreign agent, unbeknownst to DeLay. And he can't be removed because a liberal, politically charged prosecutor indicted three of his former associates, especially when DeLay himself hasn't been implicated in the case.
But no matter. Democrats will just keep throwing charges against the wall until something sticks, because this is ultimately about power and thwarting the conservative agenda.
If it turns out that DeLay has engaged in misconduct that warrants his stepping down, then he should graciously do so, regardless of the hypocrisy and double standards effervescing from the other side. Otherwise, he should remain in his position and continue to fight aggressively for the things he believes in -- the very things motivating the opposition to destroy him.
In the meantime Republicans better stand by Mr. DeLay. Who knows? Any one of them could be next.