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Carry Me Back To Old Virginny

U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX) makes a brief statement to the news media after he announced that he was stepping down from his leadership position September 28, 2005 at the Capitol in Washington, DC.
GETTY IMAGES/Chip Somodevilla
Dotty Lynch is CBSNews.com's Political Points columnist. E-mail your questions and comments to Political Points.

"God always does his best work right after a crucifixion," Rev. Rick Scarborough said last week offering encouragement to Rep. Tom DeLay after he spoke at the War against Christianity conference in Washington, D.C.

Even after being heralded as "a man God has appointed to represent righteousness in government," DeLay decided to pick up stakes and move to the fertile crescent of Virginia. DeLay told Time Magazine's Mike Allen that the outpouring of love from the audience at the War against Christianity conference was his liberating moment and convinced him that he could work outside the Congress recruiting Christians to get into the political arena.

Others have put a slightly more cynical cast on DeLay's motives for his change of life. DeLay acknowledges that his motive for moving is to make himself ineligible for election. And without the need to campaign for reelection he can he can use his leftover campaign funds to pay mounting legal fees. In addition, he is relieved of many pesky problems: the ethics charges inside the House will become moot as will his twin political headaches — losing his clout in Congress and fighting an uphill battle for re-election.

DeLay still faces further legal jeopardy since so many of his close friends and advisors appear to be talking to prosecutors. But, DeLay insists he was let down by Abramoff, Rudy and Scanlon and that he himself has done nothing wrong. And of course blames the Democratic courts and the liberal media for conducting a witch-hunt.

But what if we take DeLay at his word that he has done nothing illegal or unethical. What ever is that code of ethics? DeLay is totally blind to what many watchdogs consider to be his major "sin," — turning the House of Representative into a lobbyist's playpen and institutionalizing the pay to play politics that has shut down the democratic process.

The way Delay casts his actions is that his is the truly democratic way and the "reformers" are the ones who want to shut down democracy. In that remarkable Time interview he accused Democracy 21's Fred Wertheimer of wanting "elected officials to be isolated. He doesn't want anybody to be able to petition their government. He wants government-funded campaigns." And he says reform is really just left's way of trying to do away with the Republican majority."

Most Republican officials I have talked to today are very relieved that DeLay has decided to step down and aren't buying his new moral crusade. And Democrats are a little disappointed that they won't have DeLay as their symbol of the "culture of corruption."

But neither party is pledging to embark on real reform which would truly separate big campaign contributions from policy. As long as earmarks continue to be the way of legislation and committee assignments are based on how much money a member has raised for the party, the door will remain wide open to special interests getting special attention.

In 1998 Chuck Lewis the author of the "Buying of the Congress: How Special Interests Have Stolen Your Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" wrote the "Congress is increasingly in danger of becoming an auction house where public policies are sold to the highest bidder." Lewis' comments were based on a study of the activities of the Congress from 1987 to 1996, the pre-DeLay era. Since then the danger has been realized.

Lewis who has been described as the Clark Kent of the money-and politics beat urged the pubic at the time to "take back their Congress." The toppling of Tom Delay is a first step, but for real reform, it can't be the last.

By Dotty Lynch