Topic: Government & Politics

The Power of a Rotten Apple

You have to admire Tom DeLay; you really do. Last year’s champion among unethical politicians (a VERY competitive category) could have sat on his laurels and let other, younger, hungrier unscrupulous politicians chase his title. Or, if he suddenly and inconveniently developed either a conscience or some respect for the institution he serves, the United States Congress, he might have gone all soft and actually made an effort to abide by its Code of Conduct.

But not our Tom, no sir! Instead, the House Majority Leader is off to an early lead in the Unethical Conduct Sweepstakes by orchestrating the removal of Rep. Joel Hefley (R.Col.) as Chairman of the House Ethics Committee. Not that Hefley was an especially vigilant or bold enforcer of House ethics rules…far from it. The Ethics Committee under his watch was almost as slug-like as it has been for the last several years. Hefley’s mistake was that when his own party leader so blatantly violated the House Code of Conduct that it couldn’t be swept under the rug, he actually took action, however tepid. DeLay was investigated and duly called to account and reprimanded by the Committee three times (it should have been four, and could have been more.)

DeLay, of course, acknowledged no wrongdoing, as he doesn’t comprehend how any conduct that hurts Democrats, helps Republicans, or cements his own power could possibly be "wrong." He responded to his knuckle-rapping by persuading Speaker Dennis Hastert to dump Hefley and install a loyal DeLay crony, Washington State Rep. Doc Hastings, as Chairman of the Ethics Committee as well as two other Republican members who donated funds to DeLay’s legal defense fund. This is like Brian Dennehy being made the Sheriff in "Silverado.". It’s like the police lieutenant (Sterling Haydon, for you trivia buffs) on the mob payroll (who gets shot by Al Pacino) in "The Godfather." It’s the racist Mississippi judge trying the murderers of Civil Rights workers in "Mississippi Burning."

Besides his usual motive of vengeance, DeLay is doing all this primarily to head off any adverse Ethics Committee action should he be indicted in Texas for fundraising violations. But that is secondary to the message sent by DeLay’s intentional packing of the committee charged with overseeing the integrity of Congress. The House Ethics Committee is now itself in violation of the first two requirements in the House Code of Conduct:

  1. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall conduct himself at all times in a manner which shall reflect creditably on the House of Representatives.
  2. A Member, officer, or employee of the House of Representatives shall adhere to the spirit and the letter of the Rules of the House of Representatives and to the rules of duly constituted committees thereof.

Thanks to DeLay, the Committee is also in violation of the first two provisions of the Code of Ethics for Government Service:

Any person in Government service should:

  1. Put loyalty to the highest moral principals and to country above loyalty to Government persons, party, or department.
  2. Uphold the Constitution, laws, and legal regulations of the United States and of all governments therein and never be a party to their evasion.

The United States Congress, according to its own regulations, is now officially corrupt.

Tom DeLay, Speaker Hastert, and House Republicans are confident that the public regards maneuvers related to Congressional committees as administrative trivia, and that outside of a few outraged columnists and talking heads (most of whom can be conveniently dismissed as "partisan") no one will much notice or care that ethical oversight, long on life support, has had its plug pulled by House Republicans

So far, they have been correct. The old adage is proven: a rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. Tom DeLay is no longer just an aberrational political hatchet man with no scruples. He is a danger to the integrity of the United States Government. That is something Republicans should care about just as much as Democrats; indeed more. The DeLay is a Republican Party leader, and the damage he does is their responsibility.


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