Blame it on the vast anti-Christian conspiracy. That was the explanation offered by U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas and his supporters last week for the whirlpool of legal difficulties that finally led the ex-leader of the Republicans in Congress to admit it was time to call it quits.

The convener of a “War on Christians” conference held in the nation’s capital outrageously depicted the former House majority leader’s political plight as the unwarranted crucifixion of a Christ-like leader by God-haters. And, with his trademark gall, the infamously ethically challenged DeLay eagerly embraced this explanation when it was his turn to speak to the adoring crowd.

“We have been chosen to live as Christians at a time when our culture is being poisoned and our world is being threatened,” thundered the Texan pest-control entrepreneur who rose to become one of America’s most powerful politicians. “The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment the absurdity of right-wing Christians’ persecution complex at a time when their adherents effectively control all three branches of the federal government. What’s even more confusing is how so many enemies of virtue seem to have had a field day operating under poor DeLay’s auspices, including the latest member of his staff to plead guilty to a felony. That would be Tony Rudy, DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff, who has now pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge for accepting payments from fellow criminal Jack Abramoff while serving in DeLay’s office, and later working to corrupt public officials and defraud clients.

To be fair to DeLay, it should be noted that as absurd as his religious posturing may appear, it comes at a time when he has been denied the services of his onetime spiritual adviser and former chief of staff. Edwin Buckham, an evangelical minister who turned lobbyist after leaving DeLay’s staff, is himself now mired in potential legal problems stemming from Rudy’s plea bargain. A devastating article by R. Jeffrey Smith in the Washington Post last week reported that Buckham and his wife received a total of nearly a million bucks from the “nonprofit” U.S. Family Network, which he created as a front group largely funded by clients of Abramoff.

The group — once fraudulently touted by DeLay in a fundraising letter as a “grassroots” organization devoted to family values — was started by Buckham while he was still in charge of the congressman’s staff and operated out of a Washington town house that also served as DeLay’s off-Capitol Hill office. The main family values served by the organization were apparently those of the Buckham family, which received nearly one-third of its entire disbursements, and the Rudy family, which received payments of $26,000 funneled to Tony Rudy’s wife while he was on DeLay’s staff. Buckham, in turn, completed the circle by carrying DeLay’s wife, Christine, on the payroll of his consulting firm for three years.

Dizzy yet? It gets worse, much worse. Despite its alleged focus on protecting American families, the Family Network’s lobbying instead found success in securing DeLay’s political support of Russian oil profiteers, sweatshop operators in the U.S. protectorate of the Northern Marianas, and American Indian gambling casinos afraid of competition. It’s a peculiar record for an organization launched with the stated purpose of pushing policies to advance “families, the economic prosperity, social improvement, moral fitness, and general well being of the United States.” But perhaps DeLay and his underlings just have a different interpretation of what “it” is when it comes to “moral fitness.”

After all, DeLay did argue publicly that allowing textile manufacturers in the Marianas to sew in “Made In the USA” labels while not having to follow our labor and immigration laws was the moral thing to do. And when Abramoff, recipient of more than $7 million in lobbying fees from the Marianas government, managed to get him to visit, DeLay took the opportunity not only to call Abramoff “one of my closest and dearest friends,” he also cast the sweatshop owners’ cause — protecting their right to cheap imported Chinese labor — in a Christian framework. “Stand firm,” Delay urged them at a dinner hosted by a major sweatshop company, as he promised to protect their profitable loophole from any corrective legislation. “Resist evil. Remember that all truth and blessings emanate from our Creator.”

What is still unclear, however, is how, if DeLay really fears the judgment of his creator, can he be so cavalier in assuming he will get an eternal pass on this despicable behavior?

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