- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Lacking national leadership and an agenda of their own, Democrats are trying to topple the House Republican majority leader and defeat President Bush’s nominee to be U.N. ambassador.

That may not sound like much of a plan to rebuild public confidence in their party in preparation for the 2006 congressional elections, but it’s just about all the Democrats have right now. Bereft of ideas about how to save Social Security, cut the deficit or pay for Medicare’s mushrooming costs, they’re playing the politics of personal destruction.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may lack a certain sensitivity about political perceptions, but the charges against him about who paid for a few of his trips and why his wife and daughter are on his campaign payroll do not withstand close scrutiny.

It is perfectly legal and proper for organizations to pick up the costs of trips when members of Congress are invited to faroff conferences and events. Mr. DeLay, the No. 2 leader in Congress, did this. Then it was discovered these same groups, as they are allowed to do, received money from other lobbying groups that essentially covered the costs of these trips — though without Mr. DeLay’s knowledge.

The House ethics committee is looking into this, with Mr. DeLay’s approval, but it hardly seems likely this will topple him from power. He has done nothing wrong.

Then there is the story about putting family members into key posts on his political committees. His wife headed his campaign and a daughter ran his political action fund-raising committee. Political people are well-paid for this kind of work, and, like Mr. DeLay, many members of Congress also hire their wives and other family members to run their campaign operations.

It is reported Mr. DeLay’s wife and daughter collectively received about $500,000 for their work in the last four years, a figure that raised some eyebrows as unusually high. (Some pundits inaccurately have said they earned $500,000 yearly.)

But if you divide the total between them, then spread that over the last four years, you come out to $62,500 a year — not an egregiously high salary for people managing campaign budgets that routinely run into many millions of dollars.

Democratic leaders are really furious about — and this is what’s really behind the latest attacks — Mr. DeLay’s redistricting war in Texas that swept four long-entrenched Democratic House members out of office last year. Democrats routinely redrew district lines to maintain their 40-year reign over the House, but it was unforgivable when Mr. DeLay used it against them. Now, they say, it’s payback time.

On the Senate side, the Democrats seem to devote much of their energy to defeating John R. Bolton, Mr. Bush’s choice to represent the U.S. at the United Nations. As near as anyone can tell from this week’s confirmation hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, their biggest gripe is that the undersecretary of state for arms control has criticized U.N. corruption, inertia and bureaucratic waste and inefficiency.

Mr. Bolton has a reputation as a tough-talking diplomat who doesn’t mince words and who thinks, as the administration does, that the U.N. needs a top-to-bottom reform. That is why Mr. Bush chose him.

Mr. Bolton has had a stellar background. He won praise for developing the U.S.-led anti-terrorism Proliferation Security Initiative by which many participating countries now search ships at sea suspected of smuggling illicit weapons.

He is a hard-liner on North Korean nuclear weapons efforts. He isn’t afraid to challenge information from intelligence analysts, and that made him unpopular in some CIA circles.

But the criticism from committee Democrats in many respects has been almost laughable. Liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer of California played a video clip of a decade-old Bolton speech to the World Federalists in which he said “it wouldn’t make a bit of difference” if 10 floors of the U.N. building were emptied.

Mr. Bolton explained he was merely trying to say “there’s not a bureaucracy in the world that can’t be made leaner and more efficient.” Who can disagree?

The Democrats’ criticism of Mr. Bolton on the whole is thin gruel, but then they have been unquestioning cheerleaders for the world body for many years, all too ready to turn over virtually every national security problem to its weak and divided leadership. In his presidential campaign, Sen. John Kerry seemed to look to the U.N. as the solution to almost everything, from Iraq to North Korea.

Mr. Kerry lost that election because voters did not trust the Democrats with America’s national security. This week’s rather frivolous complaints about Mr. Bolton’s nomination suggest the Democrats haven’t yet learned their lesson.

Putting a tough-minded, no-nonsense hard-liner like Mr. Bolton at the U.N. is the kind of medicine the world body has needed for a long, long time.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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