Thursday, September 29, 2005
News that Tom DeLay, Republican majority leader in the US House of Representatives, is to face criminal charges has provoked stinging criticism from many US newspapers.
Mr DeLay has insisted he is innocent of the charges - which centre on allegations of illegal fund-raising - and described the man prosecuting him as an "unabashed partisan zealot".
Mr DeLay's hard-headed approach to his role has secured Republican interests in the House in recent years, bringing political results but turning him into a divisive partisan figure.
"The imperious Texan is an increasing embarrassment to his party, turning its majority into an undisguised fountain of patronage and an ideological cudgel while skirting the bounds of campaign law," says The New York Times, which criticises his decision to resign his post only temporarily.
The newspaper points to Mr DeLay's open intervention in state elections in Texas as "reason enough for him to relinquish leadership" even without criminal charges.
His approach is damned as "intellectually dishonest" by the Los Angeles Times, which ponders whether US political culture can deteriorate further before it improves.
Mr DeLay "has practically made a career out of testing the boundaries on ethics - and going far beyond them politically," the LA Times says.
He is accused of hypocrisy and partisanship on issues ranging from military action to the right to life: a man, the LA Times believes, "so unprincipled that not even his allies pretend he stands for anything".
Even newspapers in Texas, home to Mr DeLay and President George W Bush, have strong words over the issue.
"It should go without saying, but I'll put it on the record, that [Mr] DeLay is innocent until proven guilty. It just doesn't mean that he is blameless," writes Cragg Hines in the Houston Chronicle.
Tom DeLay "personally and vindictively, for partisan advantage" redrew electoral boundaries city of Austin to benefit Republicans, Mr Hines says. There is irony, he adds, in Mr DeLay branding his prosecution a political issue.
In the Dallas Morning News, Carl Leubsdorf points out that Tom DeLay "was brought down by a party rule that Republicans initially enacted to contrast their adherence to the proprieties with the allegedly lower standards of the Democrats.
"In a larger sense, he fell victim to his own efforts to continually expand his power."
Back in the capital, The Washington Post questions whether criminal charges might be a "blunt instrument" to use in an apparently political game.
Nevertheless, echoing the concerns of others, the Post wonders if "this latest controversy will cause his colleagues to rethink whether he is, in fact, the person they really want to call their leader".