The answer is, ethics has seemingly returned to normal. That is, the normally toothless ethics police in the house have had their powers restored to them. But whether or not the House Ethics Committee is capable of holding representatives accountable for ethical lapses was never really the issue. Asking politicians to police themselves is such a ridiculously stupid idea that, honestly, just the thought of such a situation leaves me speechless.
What was at issue, and why the Democrats were correct to stand firm, was the question of whether or not the Republican majority can do anything it wants, even if it flies in the face of public opinion and American morality. You can be damn sure that the Democrats would be toasting no sweet victory on this fine eve if the Republican gutting of the Ethics Committee had not left a sour taste in the mouths of Americans left and right. Nobody likes cheaters, and people who change the rules in the middle of a game, simply because they can, are liked even less.
Everything the Republican majority has done since last November is indicative of the kind of control they think they have. They have had their victories (the new bankruptcy bill, Alaskan oil drilling, and limiting awards on lawsuits are among their major achievements). But what we are seeing now is the Republican Party paying a price for believing it owns the moral soul of our nation. From invasive legislation that intruded on a hospice bed, to social security, to judicial filibustering, the Republican Party believes it is operating within conservative moral guidelines, and they are right. It is those very guidelines that are wrong.
With the ethics battle, however, there is no moral justification no matter whether you hold liberal or conservative moral values. A crook is a crook. The blatant abuse of power that was evident on the part of the Republicans in the ethics fight is why they lost. Mark this day, for my God, we have actually seen an event unfold in Washington that was based solely on a definition of right and wrong that is shared by almost all Americans. It turns out our leaders are not above the law. Not true, unfortunately. After all, I see no indictment, I have heard of no instance where a congressman has testified before a grand jury recently. What is reassuring is that the slime of corruption has receded somewhat. Maybe there is hope for a little more honesty than normal in Washington. I am pleased to see that when push comes to shove, the American people are offering forth enough questioning public opinion to make things more difficult than normal for the Republican majority whenever they try to force feed morally bankrupt legislation and behavior to us.
So what’s next? Now that a party line vote will no longer shut down an Ethics Committee inquiry, it follows that the first representative to squirm before that committee will be Tom DeLay. How much squirming he does depends on how far his power in the Republican Party has eroded. His case must have some bright spots. After all, President Bush is still content to be seen in public with him. The cancer that is a dying politician has yet to manifest itself in Mr. DeLay. Members of his party are anything if not resilient. An inquiry by a committee is only trouble in the court of public opinion, where memories are short. Where he may come into trouble is if the creepiness of his situation lingers into the next election cycle, and some Democrat in his district is capable of exploiting this weakness. His seat is vulnerable, but at this point not really in trouble.
But there is more. Are the Democrats out to get Tom DeLay? Yes, they are. And they should be. Tom DeLay is a corrupt power broker of the highest order, and one of the most important leaders the Republican Party has. Ignore the glass house aspects of cross-party attacks for a moment, and remember the political necessity of seizing every opportunity available to make life harder for a man on the other side of the aisle who is part of everything despicable about our leadership of the past years. This is politics, and Tom DeLay, through his far-right stands to his ethical lapses, to even possibly his criminal behavior, has left himself vulnerable. Even more so, I believe the country will be a better place the sooner far-right leaders like Tom DeLay are out of the business of politics.