As I’ve told Mark before, it always makes me nervous when he disagrees with the magazine or the weight of opinion in The Corner, because there’s a pretty good chance that means the rest of us will be wrong. Mark was right that the early reaction to Hurricane Katrina (including mine) was a little hysterical, and he was right that the Libby indictment wasn’t as strong as it seemed at first blush. Now, Mark says NR is wrong to urge DeLay not to seek to return as majority leader at this time.
A lot of his argument is based on loyalty, and I can sympathize with that. But loyalty runs both ways. GOP members should be loyal (but not blindly) to DeLay, and DeLay should be loyal to the GOP majority. In the current circumstances, as we put it in the editorial, the best way for DeLay to serve the majority is not to seek to come back. The Republicans are faced with a majority-threatening ethical crisis, and DeLay is right at the center of it. This isn’t just a creation of the media–three of his former aides are closely linked to Abramoff and, in the case of one of them, complicit in his crimes.
Does this mean DeLay is guilty of any crimes? Not necessarily. It certainly means he exercised poor judgment, perhaps judgment so poor that it should disqualify him from a leadership role. (Conservatives should never adopt the Clinton-era standard of “If it’s not illegal, it’s O.K.”) We will have to wait for the Abramoff business to shake out more fully to know one way or the other. But pending that shakeout–more pleas? indictments?–it would be foolhardy to have DeLay again in the position of majority leader.
Mark says DeLay should get the “benefit of the doubt.” Reasonable enough. But what does that mean in these circumstances? Returning him to the leadership wouldn’t be giving him the benefit of the doubt, it would be accepting the idea that’s he’s totally clean here. To me, the benefit of the doubt means not condemning him to the outer darkness forever and leaving open the possibility that, vindicated, he returns to the leadership later, given his uncanny talent at vote-counting and arm-twisting.
We should resist the temptation, on the other hand, to minimize the DeLay revelations so far. Mark shrugs off DeLay’s wife taking money from a lobbying firm–I think that’s what he is referring to, even though he says it was a nonprofit–with the observation that “many congressional families are two-income households.” But according to press reports she took more than $100,000 from the lobbying firm for what looks like very little work. The firm was getting big payments from a DeLay nonprofit that was, in its turn, getting huge contributions from Abramoff clients. You don’t have to be a liberal to dislike how this smells.
A final political point. Congressional Republicans need to clean up their act not to please the Democrats and the media, but because it’s right and because their own base expects it, at least from my sense of conservative opinion. I read the conservative tolerance for real ethical shenanigans–not the trumped-up Earle stuff–and the big government that is often entwined with it to be basically nil. A reminder of how they go together was in the Washington Post story about the Russian oil interests’ giving $1 million to DeLay’s nonprofit–one thing they were after was congressional earmarks. Why would anyone think they could buy congressional earmarks? Because they have so often been on sale.