Here's Tom DeLay, ready to tell the rest of us how to live our lives.
Personally, I can't think of anyone I'd less want to see stomping around in my own family life at the most delicate imaginable moment, say while the grief-stricken Henicans were confronting a decision concerning a comatose loved one.
Tom DeLay, the former small-town Texas exterminator. Tom DeLay, the most powerful man in Congress today. Tom DeLay, the feared Republican enforcer seemingly on the verge of criminal indictment for fund-raising abuses. Tom DeLay, a legislator so famously hard-hearted that he is known around Washington, with both trepidation and respect, as "The Hammer."
Yes, that Tom DeLay.
And what was he doing at week's end?
He was inserting himself - not into my family, thank God - but into poor Terri Schiavo's. And the moment could not possibly have been worse.
Terri, of course, is the comatose 41-year-old Florida woman who has been lying in an uninterrupted vegetative state for 15 years now, ever since her heart stopped and her brain was severely damaged and all the court-appointed doctors said she has no hope of ever recovering anything that vaguely resembles a genuine life.
That Terri Schiavo.
Terri's husband, Michael, has spent all that time hoping, praying, waiting and trying to carry out what he believes to be his wife's most profound wishes - not to be lying in suspended animation for years on end, unable to speak, to move, to feel or to think. He has been trying, in the face of her parents' disagreement and the taunts of angry protesters, pandering politicians and uninvited lawsuits, to give his wife the quiet and dignified death he believes she asked him to.
Finally, the day arrived. The legal way cleared. An imperfect peace was made. And in stepped Tom DeLay.
Not since George Wallace stood in that schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama had a pandering politician done something so bold in support of something so wrong.
He knew what was better for Terri Schiavo than her husband did. And he would try anything - anything! - to enforce his own view.
DeLay wasn't alone in this. Not by a long shot. There were other pandering politicians in Washington and Tallahassee, standing right beside him and launching their own heartless attacks on Michael Schiavo and the husband's desperate desire to do what he thought was right.
All day yesterday, Republican leaders in Washington worked frantically to undo Terri's chance for a dignified death. The GOP meddlers came up with a plan to have federal courts take the case, and George Bush planned to jet back from his Crawford ranch to sign whatever they cooked up.
But it really was DeLay who led the assault on this loving couple, their decent doctors and the crucial principle of a self-determined life.
His words were so devoid of compassion, so viciously cruel, so blithely ignorant of the real-life complexities that loving families sometimes face, it was fair to ask if DeLay has been in some kind of coma himself.
A coma that let him talk and walk and run for office, but somehow kept his heart in formaldehyde.
There is nothing to do but quote the man's empty words.
"Right now," Tom DeLay said on Friday, "murder is being committed against a defenseless American citizen in Florida. Terri Schiavo's feeding tube should be immediately replaced, and Congress will continue working to explore ways to save her."
As if Tom DeLay and his band of zealots knew what was good for this suffering family a thousand miles away.
"Mrs. Schiavo's life is not slipping away - it is being violently wrenched from her body in an act of medical terrorism," DeLay said. "Mr. Schiavo's attorney's characterization of the premeditated starvation and dehydration of a helpless woman as 'her dying process' is as disturbing as it is unacceptable. What is happening to her is not compassion - it is homicide. She doesn't need to die, and as long as Terri Schiavo can breathe and her supporters can pray, we will not rest."
And who would know better than an ex-exterminator from Texas named Tom DeLay?
The words echoed down to Texas, where he needs support with his legal problems. They bounced up the stairs of the Pinellas Circuit Court in Florida, where Judge George Greer, a Republican and a Southern Baptist, had the clear mind and the good sense not to be intimidated by some bully from Washington.
He told the outsiders to get away from the hospice and to leave Michael Schiavo alone. Then he told an exterminator from Texas he wasn't getting his way this time. He might as well put his hammer away.
It was certainly about time.
Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.