Mr. DeLay's tipping point

April 10, 2005

DON'T THINK House Majority Leader Tom DeLay isn't sensitive to criticism. Just a couple of years ago, he abandoned his trademark plastered-down hairstyle for a trendier blow-dried look because, he said, "I got tired of being called a helmet head."

He just can't seem to figure out, though, how to put to rest the flurry of ethics allegations now being hurled at him on almost a daily basis. He tried dismantling the House Ethics Committee, changing the subject to Terri Schiavo and launching an offensive against the federal judiciary. Yet the attacks against him have only intensified. He's fallen back on the familiar tactic of blaming the Democrats and liberal media, but that won't make the spotlight on him go away.

A few weeks ago, it seemed Mr. DeLay might be able to save himself by becoming a champion of a reinvigorated ethics process that could examine his alleged transgressions and put them in the appropriate context. But it may be too late to rescue a career of pushing the conflict-of-interest envelope as far as it would go. As the Ethics Committee said last year, it's not so much a single act but an operating style that creates the "appearance of impropriety."

This might seem like inside-the-Beltway stuff to most voters, except that the cumulative effect of revelations of lavish travel with lobbyists, relatives drawing fat salaries on the campaign payroll, and legislative favors for well-connected industries is a portrait of abuse of power by a leader who doesn't believe he has to answer for himself to anybody.

Mr. DeLay's Republican colleagues are reluctant to criticize him; most are deeply in his debt. He helped get many of them elected, and for years as House Whip tended to many of their personal needs in such housekeeping matters as office space and scheduling.

Yet he has developed the same arrogant, out-of-touch attitude that helped cost the Democrats control of Congress in 1994. If Mr. DeLay doesn't recognize what a liability he's become and step aside before he critically wounds his party, his Republican colleagues should give him a shove.

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