DeLay's Name I.D.: What's the big picture?

Today's New York Times carries a story by Carl Hulse and Adam Nagourney about Tom DeLay's emerging public profile with all the scandals and the Terri Schiavo case. It's chock full of quotes on this narrow question: Is Tom DeLay's national name identification numbers, increasingly negative, a liability to the Republican's agenda and to individual GOP candidates?

There has to be growing nervousness -- we've seen it for weeks -- among GOP insiders (and increasing excitement among Democratic insiders) that this question is even being asked. DeLay has prided himself in keeping a low public profile, in contrast to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Here are some of the quotes, in no particular order, from the Times:

"I am not sure it raised his name ID," said Carl M. Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. "A month from now, people are not going to remember," he said, and 20 months from now, in the 2006 elections, "it will be irrelevant."

"The public is beginning to sense a whiff of extremism in the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate," said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "If it continues, it could prove very detrimental to them and good for us."

It is not just Democrats who share that view. In a regular e-mail commentary he distributes, former Senator Dave Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota, wrote, "If I were a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in Minnesota in 2006, I would make DeLay the issue in the campaign right now."

But it is this one from independent, maverick, GOP Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut that really got me thinking. Shays' response to the question of whether DeLay was a liability:

Representative Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican from Connecticut whom the Democrats tried to tie closely to the House leadership in last year's election campaign, said of the voters in his district, "They didn't know who he is, and they didn't really care."

Well, that may be changing. But I expected Shays to be a little less interested in the narrow issue of his own race. In fact, I think it's hard to make a charge stick to Shays that he's in DeLay's orbit with the many times Shays has crossed him, particularly recently.

The questions for Shays, other GOP members of Congress, and frankly, for all of us, are these:

Do we want our government run by a man who has put personal, partisan power above the interests of the people? Put the interests of donors ahead of voters? Abused power in such a brazen way? Is DeLay Inc. what government of the people, by the people, for the people looks like?

Strategically, I'm not going to dismiss the relevance of DeLay's name I.D. numbers rising, nor the growing negativity with which Americans view the Majority Leader. But I think Shays is wrong both in what he said, and for dumbing down what Americans care about. I expected more from a representative who has fought for reform. You would think he should believe that people cared about what Tom DeLay has done. Perhaps a charitable reading of this might be that Shays answered a reporter's question about last year and didn't think more broadly in response. Or that the broader answer didn't make the story. I hope so.

I will say this, though. I believe it will take a combination of GOP leaders (with the kind of gumption Shays has shown recently), and an outraged citizenry to remove DeLay from power. The time for narrow questions about name I.D. should soon give way to questions about what we expect of our elected officials.

Let me plant my flag here: I, for one, expect elected officials and the people they are supposed to represent to speak out against DeLay's pay-to-play politics, abuse of power, and disregard for the rules.