In Washington, D.C., this first full week of April, there was a reminder of how much attention is paid to personalities, sometimes to the detriment of issues. I am referring to former House majority leader Tom DeLay's announced departure from Congress. Dubbed "The Hammer" for his less-than-subtle manner of dealing with people, DeLay ultimately had relatively few defenders and a growing number of critics, not all of whom would go on-the-record to register their objections. However, as David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times, has so astutely noted, the real issue is not DeLay but DeLayism, that collection of heavy-handed practices that do away with discussion and dissent, command blind loyalty and raise serious questions about ethics and legality.
There is no shortage of issues to be discussed in the continuing national debate about the proper roles of government. Among those issues are immigration, tax reform, Medicare's finances, China's protection of U.S. intellectual property, the Doha Round trade talks, the future of manufacturing, and national security. But there is a remarkable shortage of political leaders, the kind of people who can bring others, especially their fiercest critics, into discussions on those issues. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are distinguishing themselves by being leaders, although some of them gladly take that title. Neither the people in the White House nor those on Capitol Hill are demonstrating the kind of leadership that is based on principle, is a product of honest discussion and produces policy that can be faithfully defended and executed.
I sense among the nation's voters a growing feeling that the country would be better served if Tom DeLay weren't the only person making a dramatic exit this year from the capital city. But I wonder if voters are ready to go beyond their grumbling and carping. I wonder if they really care enough to enter into a discussion of issues during the next seven months and then vote in the November elections. Leadership of the kind I am writing about isn't only the province of people in Washington, D.C. It begins at the local level with individual voters. And it would be reassuring to see a return to it -- without delay.