Texas representative Tom DeLay began the month of March besieged by charges of corruption and ethics violations. In the past, "The Hammer" had weathered such storms by scurrying back into the toolshed -- avoiding press coverage and public appearances and using surrogates to deflect the accusations.
Not this time. Instead, DeLay sought out media attention, assuming a highly visible role as Congress politicized the tragic case of Terri Schiavo and intervened in the family's end-of-life decision. Now, as public attention shifts away from Schiavo, DeLay's political calculations seem to have backfired. In recent weeks, as many Americans were introduced to DeLay for the first time, the House leader has been exposed as the very picture of political opportunism and hypocrisy.
DeLay leveled some of the most extreme and inappropriate charges regarding the Schiavo case. He described the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube as an "act of medical terrorism," demagogued Schiavo's husband Michael on the floor of the House of Representatives, and said to a group of Christian conservatives that "God has brought [Terri Schiavo] to us ... to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America," referring to "attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."
But despite all this bombastic rhetoric, it appears DeLay's involvement in the case was tied to politics, not principle. According to a search of LexisNexis, the first article mentioning both DeLay and Schiavo appeared on March 11th. The first documents mentioning Schiavo on DeLay's Web site were published March 18th.
Now, in the face of legal setbacks and of polls that show overwhelming disapproval of congressional intervention, as well as a perception among the public that lawmakers were motivated by politics, DeLay has once again slipped out of the spotlight.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times revealed that DeLay personally endured an end-of-life crisis similar to the Schiavo case. In 1988, DeLay's 65-year-old father Charles was seriously injured during a freak tram accident at the family's home in Canyon Lake, Texas. His injuries left the DeLay patriarch suspended in a coma and doctors advising "that he would 'basically be a vegetable,'" according to the congressman's aunt, JoAnne DeLay. After several weeks, as Charles Delay's organs began to fail, his family confronted the dreaded choice so many other Americans have faced: to make heroic efforts or to let the end come. And, in a decision that belies his bellicose rhetoric of recent weeks, Tom DeLay joined the family consensus to let his father die.
As the last straw of hypocrisy, the Times detailed how DeLay's family later filed suit against two companies responsible for a machine part that the family said had caused the accident. The case was resolved in 1993 with a payment from the companies of about $250,000, compensation for the dead father's "physical pain and suffering" and the mother's grief and loss of companionship, among other things.
"Three years later," the Times noted, "DeLay cosponsored a bill specifically designed to override state laws on product liability such as the one cited in his family's lawsuit." Despite the benefits for his family, DeLay has taken a leading role promoting tort reform. He condemns trial lawyers who "get fat off the pain" of plaintiffs with "frivolous, parasitic lawsuits" that raise insurance premiums and "kill jobs." n
This article first appeared in The Progress Report.