AUSTIN, Texas -- My, my, gonna be a long four years. House Republicans have rewritten the ethics rules so Tom DeLay won't have to resign if indicted after all. Let's hear it for moral values. DeLay is one of the leading forces in making "Republican ethics" into an oxymoron.

The rule was passed in 1993, when Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, was being investigated for ethics violations. And who helped lead the floor fight to force him to resign his powerful position? Why, Tom DeLay, of course. (Actually, it's sort of a funny story. The D's already had a caucus rule that you had to resign from any leadership position if indicted. The R's changed their rules to match the D's, except they deliberately did not make their rule retroactive, so the highly indicted Rep. Joseph McDade, senior Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, could, unlike Rostenkowski, retain his seat.)

DeLay has already been admonished by the House ethics committee three times on separate violations of ethics rules. Please note, that is the Republican-dominated ethics committee. The hilarious rationale offered by the R's for the new rule to exempt DeLay is that no one can accuse them of taking the moral low road here because, "That line of reasoning accepts that exercise of the prosecutor in Texas is legitimate."

Uh, that would Ronnie Earle of Austin, who is a known Democrat. One the other hand, Earle is quite noted for having indicted more Democratic officeholders than Republicans, so it's a little hard to argue that this is a partisan political probe. Or it would be, if facts made any difference these days to talk-show screamers.

Showing his usual keen sense of ethics, DeLay has already started a legal defense fund and raised $310,000 since last summer. According to the Austin American-Statesman, half the money has come from Republican House members, who are all dependent on the Republican Steering Committee for their committee assignments and chairmanships.

DeLay has three votes on the 28-member committee and, of course, more clout than anyone else in the House. (See Lou DuBose and Jan Reid's new book, "The Hammer," for more charming details on DeLay's House dictatorship). The other half of the contributions for DeLay's legal defense has come from political action committees, corporations and individuals.

Hey, no worries about corrupting influence there because DeLay already does favors for big contributors to his plain old political action committees, even without additional contributions to his defense fund. Moral values. DeLay is going to give born-again Christians a bad name.

In furtherance of moral values, Congress now has to raise the debt limit by another $800 billion. We actually reached the debt ceiling in early October, but obviously the R's didn't want that vote coming up before the election. Then after they finish spending a staggering amount of money, the R's will return to make Bush's tax cuts permanent.

Now I realize that the Bushies consider it a point of pride to pay not one iota of attention to what the rest of the world thinks about us. But I would like to point out that the rest of the world is holding our paper. And foreign investors have demonstrated elsewhere that they are quite capable of taking alarm over unsound fiscal practices and pulling out completely, leaving bankrupt countries behind.

Speaking of what the rest of the world thinks of us, the matter was nicely summed up by Britain's Daily Mirror with its classic tabloid headline, "How Can 59,054,087 People Be So DUMB?" The Guardian just put a tiny, white-on-black headline: "Oh God."

I realize the "liberal elites" are not allowed to even quote the word "dumb" lest we be accused of "cultural condescension" toward our salt-of-the-earth red-state compatriots. Since I'm a populist happily living in the midst of a quite red state (some of my best friends are named Bubba), I never pay any attention to such horsepoop. But I do resent it when the people running the country think we're so dumb they can rip us off and then tell us to pray.

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