Every American generation needs to be shaken out of a collective complacency that encourages mischief by demagogues who would seize government under the guise of true American values.
It happened in the 1950s when Republican U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy virtually paralyzed government with charges that hundreds of card-carrying communists had infiltrated the highest echelons of government. McCarthy's downfall was swift after he couldn't prove his wild charges and thoughtful Republicans, including President Eisenhower, turned on him. He died broken and disgraced.
Then again, in the 1970s: Republican President Richard Nixon masterminded a series of criminal acts that tested the constitutional powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government during an investigation of the errant commander in chief.
Once again, constitutional government is being tested by politicians who demand obedience of the federal courts to the dictates of Congress.
Leading the pack is the rough-and-tumble Texas congressman, Tom DeLay, nicknamed "The Hammer," who, if he were president, could be impeached for his abuses of office.
Yet, like Chicago aldermen of the 1930s vouching for gangster Al Capone, ethically shortchanged Republicans are pledging fealty to DeLay, even modifying House ethics rules to accommodate DeLay's unsavory conduct. Riding high on this false sense of security, DeLay has embarked on his brazen attempt to reduce the federal judiciary to a less equal branch of government.
Because judges, including those in the U.S. Supreme Court, repeatedly refused to abide by DeLay's wishes to overturn the Terri Schiavo feeding-tube decision, DeLay wants them to "answer for their behavior."
He is unfazed that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and a few other Republicans don't share his aspirations to control judges. Ignoring the icy editorial rebuke of the archangel of Republicanism, The Wall Street Journal, which described him as having "odor ... an unsavory whiff," DeLay slugs on.
He's asked the House Judiciary Committee to investigate judges in the Schiavo case, presumably including Republican judges who angered DeLay. His intent is to make judges heel like pet dogs to the GOP's far right wing, although on Wednesday he apologized for his slashing remarks without recanting hints of impeachment of judges.
This insufferable and unconscionable arrogance should ultimately bring DeLay down. He's forgotten that some 70 percent of the public opposed congressional meddling in the Schiavo case, suggesting a higher regard for judicial wisdom than political opportunism.