The Wall Street Journal vs. Tom DeLay

Has the editorial page gotten … nice?

Is the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page a kinder, gentler place since Paul Gigot replaced Robert Bartley as editorial page editor this past September? Chatterbox had the vague sense that it was but feared his opinion was unduly influenced by his personal fondness for Gigot, alongside whom Chatterbox worked in the Journal’s Washington bureau for six years. (Gigot, though very conservative, is a rigorous reporter whose analytic style is much more judicious than Bartley’s, which is to shoot first and ask questions later, or possibly not ask them at all.) Now that House Majority Leader Dick Armey is retiring, Chatterbox thinks he’s found proof.

First, a little background: Armey is a none-too-bright libertarian economist who through sheer grit climbed his way into the House leadership and was in line to become House speaker. It never happened because he was outwitted first by Newt Gingrich, whom he tried unsuccessfully to depose, and then by Tom DeLay, who as majority whip exercised so much power that Armey, and to some extent even House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is DeLay’s former chief deputy whip, became irrelevant. (A few months before Hastert became speaker, Chatterbox asked Hastert if he’d ever been able to change DeLay’s mind about anything. After thinking about that for a minute, Hastert said he’d have to get back to Chatterbox on that. Chatterbox is still waiting.) Today, DeLay is poised to replace Armey as majority leader, and, given DeLay’s shrewdness and clout and the fact that DeLay has been virtual majority leader for several years now, and arguably the virtual speaker, Delay will almost certainly get the job.

Gigot, though, doesn’t want DeLay to get the job. In the Dec. 10 Journal, Gigot wrote a column about Armey’s pending retirement in which he speculated about various potential replacements. Inevitably, DeLay’s name came first, but only so Gigot could dismiss it:

Majority Whip Tom DeLay might decide to advance one spot in the leadership, but he’s more vote counter than idea man. Mr. DeLay’s protege, Roy Blunt of Missouri, could also make a run, though he’s also a pure politico. A more intriguing (and popular choice among members) would be 45-year-old Ohio Rep. Rob Portman, a conservative on the Ways and Means Committee who is both policy savvy and media polished. Other possibilities include Rules Chairman David Dreier of California, Oklahoma’s J.C. Watts and Budget Chairman Jim Nussle of Iowa.

Probably this was written before Gigot became aware that DeLay was an active candidate. Even so, Gigot must have known there was a good likelihood that DeLay would throw his hat in the ring. Why play down the possibility (“might”), and why dismiss it (“more vote counter than idea man”) with such ripe condescension? As anyone with even a casual familiarity with DeLay knows, DeLay is both vote counter and idea man. In DeLay’s case, though, “idea man” is a euphemism for “ideologue.” By pretending that DeLay is merely a tactician, Gigot avoids stating what is either substantive disagreement with DeLay’s extreme beliefs or the politically shrewd judgment that raising DeLay’s public profile would help Democrats win back a House majority next year as the party of moderation. Either way, Gigot’s dismissal of DeLay is not something one can easily imagine his predecessor even wanting to attempt.