Majority Leader 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 tool shed – avoiding press coverage and public appearances, and using surrogates to deflect accusations. Not this time. Instead, DeLay sought out media attention, assuming a highly visible leading role as Congress politicized the tragic case of Terri Schiavo and intervened in the family's private end-of-life decision. Now, as public attention shifts away from Schiavo, DeLay's political calculations seem to have backfired. In the past 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.
Tom 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." Yet, for all his bombastic rhetoric, it appears DeLay's involvement in the case was tied to politics, not principle. The Texas native apparently had little to do with the Schiavo controversy prior to the past few weeks. According to a search of LexisNexis, the first article mentioning both DeLay and Schiavo appeared on 3/11/05, while the first documents mentioning Schiavo on DeLay's web site were published March 18. And now, "in the face of the legal setbacks and of polls that show overwhelming disapproval of Congressional intervention, as well as a perception among the public that lawmakers trying it were motivated by politics," DeLay has once again "slipped out of the spotlight."
Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times revealed that Tom DeLay personally endured an end-of-life crisis similar to the tragic 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, with doctors advising "that he would 'basically be a vegetable,'" according to the congressman's aunt, JoAnne DeLay. After several weeks, as Charles' 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 "quietly joined the sad 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 payment 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 notes, "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."