Political Hay

The Case of Two Toms

From the Ethics Committee’s anti-Delay stunt to unethical Daschle’s anti-abortion stance.

By 10.14.04

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WASHINGTON -- Boy, we can tell we are in the thick of the political season! There are two recent examples that deserve comment. First, the House Ethics Committee has slapped the wrist of Majority Leader Tom DeLay for the third time. I am not going to get into the question of whether DeLay was right or wrong. It is hard to judge unless you are in command of all of the facts, which I am not.

Let me tell you why I think this action against DeLay was taken. For the Democrats it was an opportunity to take a swipe at the Republican they have come to hate more than Newt Gingrich. However, their efforts to brand him as evil have largely failed because unlike Gingrich, DeLay is not prone to giving them ammunition. Gingrich used to say controversial things in colorful terms. Some of Gingrich's words came back to haunt him. DeLay says little unless he is making an important policy speech as he did recently when the Marriage Amendment was before the House. He warned his colleagues that this issue is going to come back, a point that the liberals hate. Anyway, this action was a chance for the Democrats to create an issue. Their hope is that this issue will give an incentive for a good candidate to run against DeLay. Thus far, they have been unable to recruit anyone credible. DeLay is serving out his tenth term.

What of the Republicans? The Ethics Committee is evenly divided between the parties, which means, in order for there to be action, at least one Member from the other party has to concur. The initiatives here were by the Democrats, especially a defeated House member who blames DeLay for throwing him into a new district with another Democrat. But all Republicans concurred with the letter sent to DeLay, so it was a unanimous vote. DeLay has run the tightest ship of any Republican leader since Speaker Cannon in the early part of the last century. Some Republicans resent his efforts to make the party caucus accountable to the leadership. The type of Republicans who serve on the Ethics Committee are especially sensitive in this regard. Most members do not want to sit in judgment of their colleagues. Those willing to do so often have what I call a "goo-goo" bias. They usually have a naive worldview and advocate "good government" like McCain-Feingold.

Again, this was their chance to rap their GOP colleague on the knuckles. As I say, I take no position as to the validity of the charges against DeLay. I certainly would like to hear his side of the story first.

What galls me about all of this is the sanctimony with which the judging members behave. The dirty little secret is that far worse goes on in the Congress that never gets a judgment by anyone. The reason is the members protect each other. So only when they resent someone do they run to the Ethics Committee for action. And the Ethics Committee only acts when someone has really gotten under their skin. Many of the real crimes get no attention. On that score DeLay is getting a raw deal here.

AND THEN THERE IS Tom Daschle. He is locked in a razor-thin election contest with former Congressman John Thune. This is the Tom Daschle who signed a letter in October of 2002 saying that the Senate's "pro-choice" leadership was being threatened by "anti-choice forces." The letter was a fundraiser for the National Abortion Rights Action League. Now that he is in a tough contest he tells the Rapid City Journal that he is opposed to abortion. He refused upon repeated questioning to say that he was "pro-choice," even though he has often voted that way.

It is hard for me to understand anyone who votes pro-abortion. Still, one can at least respect those, such as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who consistently defend that position.

But for Daschle -- with his voting record, and having signed that letter for the worst of the abortion rights groups -- now to play the "I'm opposed to abortion" game is beyond the pale. Has he no principle at all? Does his signature on a letter mean nothing? Is it just an expedient to keep him in power?

This reminds me of what Christ said in the Gospels: "Be either hot or cold but if ye be lukewarm I will spew you from my mouth." Senators who take whatever position which might help them with swing voters should be mindful of that passage, especially since Daschle claims to be a Christian. He used to call himself a Catholic but after that letter reportedly the Catholic Bishop of Sioux Falls wrote him a letter asking him to no longer call himself a Catholic.

This is a question of respect. I don't know how you can respect someone who has no core belief but is just available to whatever cause seems to have the upper hand at the moment.

As I say, we are deep into the political season. Thank God there are less than three weeks left. I can't take much more of this. My blood pressure won't permit it.

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About the Author

Paul M. Weyrich is chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.