A hammer with a heart

Posted: Dec 03, 2004 12:00 AM

 The first thing that crossed my mind when ethics charges were lodged against Rep. Tom DeLay was, "I wish Mary McGrory were still alive."

 McGrory, the pungent liberal columnist who died last April at the age of 85, was, improbably enough, a Tom DeLay fan. Why did this scourge of Nixon and Reagan appreciate "the Hammer" from Texas? She liked him because she was able to put aside partisan and philosophical differences in the name of a greater good. That greater good was a love of children. McGrory volunteered at St. Anne's Infant and Maternity Home and was a lifelong advocate of adoption and assistance to children in foster care.

 McGrory knew, though few others in America do, that Tom DeLay is a forceful advocate for abused and neglected children, and that he and his wife raised three foster children in their own home.

 Following the awful death of D.C. toddler Brianna Blackmond at the hands of her mentally impaired mother, DeLay used all of his considerable legislative skills to create a family court in the District of Columbia, so that children would not be pushed through the system like ciphers, but would be known to a judge who could follow their case over a period of years. I sat next to McGrory at a hearing about that effort and watched DeLay make the case to his colleagues.

 Some conservatives recoil from any government involvement in family life and cite examples (sometimes accurate) of overzealous bureaucrats who have removed children from loving homes after a mere spanking. But while such miscarriages happen, they are rare and correctible. Failing to protect a child from an abusive or murderous parent is, alas, common and irreversible. In cases of parental drug abuse, sexual predation and cruelty, there is sometimes no alternative to the state stepping in to protect the children.

 DeLay has also raised money to create a home for foster children who "age out" of the system. Once they reach 18, some are completely alone in the world. DeLay has created a center to which they can repair for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Glance at DeLay's website (http://tomdelay.house.gov/children), and see the passion the man brings to the subject.

 So would Mary McGrory have defended DeLay now that Democrats are circling and hoping for blood? I don't know. But I do know that she would have given him the benefit of the doubt. The ethics charges against him were dismissed by the House Ethics Committee, and though DeLay was "admonished" about "appearances of impropriety," the House rule infractions are difficult to divine.

 Was the House Republican Conference wrong to change its rules so that even if DeLay is indicted, he can remain as majority leader? Probably. The rule forbidding members of the leadership to remain in their posts if indicted was passed by the Republican Congress in 1995 to set them apart from the Democrats. To change the rule now does look bad, and the MSM (mainstream media) lost no time in clucking about "arrogance of power" and so forth.

 But on the other hand, the prosecutor in the case, Ronnie Earle, an ally of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards (defeated by George W. Bush), does seem a teensy bit partisan. In June 1993, he indicted newly elected Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on charges of official misconduct. Former Sen. Phil Gramm said, "This investigation smelled of raw politics from the beginning." The charges would have carried penalties up to 60 years in prison and $40,000 in fines. But a judge granted a directed verdict of not guilty after the prosecution failed to present a case.

 Now Earle has indicted several DeLay associates in Texas and is apparently gunning for DeLay. Even if Earle could not make the charges stick (as he could not in Hutchison's case), under the old House rules he could have knocked DeLay out of the leadership. This understandably sticks in Republican throats, since Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has actually been found guilty violating federal campaign finance laws. She paid a fine of $21,000 and was forced to return $100,000.

 So maybe Republicans look guilty for changing their own rule. But it looks like politics were very much in play on the other side, as well. I just wish Mary McGrory were alive to say so.