Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We Come to Bury DeLay, Not to Praise Him

[[P O L I T I C S]] * OK, that’s it. Hiatus over. Yes, I’ve been preoccupied lately with writing assignments that have absolutely nothing to do with Limbo. But today’s announcement that exterminator and former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is resigning from Congress after 21 years is too significant to let pass without comment. DeLay’s rather surprising announcement that he will leave his job before November’s midterm elections comes a little less than five months after he was indicted by a Texas grand jury on money-laundering and conspiracy charges related to the dispersal of $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions; just under four months after he gave up his leadership post in the Republican-dominated House; and only four days after his ex-deputy chief of staff, Tony C. Rudy, pleaded guilty to conspiring with now-notorious GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and another erstwhile DeLay aide, Michael Scanlon, to “corrupt public officials and defraud his clients,” as The Washington Post phrased it. Rudy agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating criminal enterprises that were run out of DeLay’s Capitol Hill office. As Joshua Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo speculated this morning, “DeLay’s lawyers must have sat him down over the last 72 hours and explained to him that he needs to focus on not spending most of the rest of his life in prison.” Yet DeLay’s criminal defense lawyer, Richard Cullen, is quoted in The New York Times today as saying that “The decision had absolutely nothing to do with the investigation.”

Yeah, right. And if you believe that one, I’ve got this little ol’ bridge in New York City that I make you a deal on, cheap.

The print press and blogosphere are rife with DeLay post mortems. Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio), a former DeLay ally who’s also under investigation for his connections to Abramoff and other D.C. lobbyists, and who succeeded the Texas strongman as House majority leader, the No. 2 position in that body, said today that “The country owes Tom a great debt of gratitude for helping lead America in a new direction ... He has served our nation with integrity and honor, and I’m honored to call him my colleague and friend.” White House spokesman “Stonewall Scotty” McClellan--considerably practiced lately trying to put the best spin on bad news related to the GOP--told reporters that “Congressman DeLay has been a good ally with whom the president has worked to get things done for the people.” Meanwhile, right-wing bloggers excoriated Democrats for their undefined role in the congressman’s fall, as if the man known as The Hammer were some defenseless schoolgirl molested by opponents in waxed mustaches. “DeLay appears to be yet another victim of the Democrats’ politics of personal destruction--the only politics they know,” whined Power Line.

It’s certainly true that Democrats--whose resentment of DeLay can be traced to his participation in the 1998 partisan impeachment of President Bill Clinton, his manipulation of the 2000 presidential vote recount that placed George W. Bush in the Oval Office, his controversial (and possibly illegal) efforts to redistrict the state of Texas in order to augment the domination of Republicans in its congressional contingent, and his strong-arming of Bush-endorsed legislation (such as the costly and confusing Medicare drug benefit) through the House--are pleased by DeLay’s decision to step aside. In a mailing this morning, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean wrote:
DeLay is a symptom of a larger disease--a sick Republican culture of corruption that touches everyone who took his dirty money, voted for his corrupt leadership, or sat silently while their party has sold our government to the highest bidder. The corruption extends to the House, the Senate, and the Bush Administration--and this November the accountability must reach just as wide.
A chorus of other left-leaning voices have chimed in since. In The Huffington Post, commentator Bill Press writes: “Whatever happens next, DeLay’s resignation is good for the Congress--and good for the country. Good for Congress because he was the poster boy for congressional corruption: more interested in lining his own pockets than serving the public. With him gone, maybe Congress can begin to clean up its own reputation. And DeLay’s departure is good for the country--because he represents the worst of American politics: a man who reeks of hate, greed, hypocrisy, false piety, and crime.” At TruthOut, William Rivers Pitt calls DeLay “the living embodiment of absolutely everything wrong in American politics. Forget your ideology, and your hateful divisiveness, and your shameless canoodling with the Taliban wing of fundamentalist Christianity. One cannot swing a cat by the tail in Washington, D.C., these days without smacking someone who thinks the way you do. ... No, your criminal misuse of the campaign funding laws, your outright disdain for the rules if they keep you from assuming absolute control, your almost Zen-like ability to operate beyond the confines of conscience and dignity, is why your presence has been a cancer on the body politic since the day you put down your bug extermination gear and tried a power tie on for size, and is why you’re finished now.” In a less caustic vein, Michael Tackett, opines in the Chicago Tribune’s politics blog, The Swamp, that DeLay’s departure represents the finishing gasp of the so-called Republican Revolution of the 1990s.
Now the “revolution” is more embers than flame. Most revolutions fail. This one lasted for more than a decade, but could not bridge the divide from revolution, with all its fervor, to evolution, putting the ideas into long-term practice. [Former House Speaker Newt] Gingrich seemed to wake up every morning with a list of 10 ideas, and even if half of them were unworkable, they created energy.

But now, it is clear, the revolution also created hubris, first evidenced by Gingrich, who resigned in disgrace, and then by DeLay and his staff in their exercise of power. The staff seemed to forget the first rule of being good staff, namely to remember that your authority is entirely derived from the member. Instead, several of them decided to follow the well worn path from Capitol Hill to K Street, cashing in on their association with DeLay.
Tackett adds that he’s disappointed, if not surprised, that supposed “realist” DeLay fails to acknowledge his own errors of judgment as contributing to his resignation, but attributes it instead to vicious attacks by members of “the Democrat Party,” who “would use his troubles to exploit political gains in races around the country in November.” (There are also DeLay supporters about charging that their man is being punished, martyr-like, for his born-again Christianity. Again, I have that bridge ...) Concludes Tackett: “Even though DeLay chose to go, it was not quietly. Nowhere in his words could one read [some] sense of contrition. That lack of acknowledgement is perhaps just one of the reasons that the revolution that DeLay rode to power seems to be struggling to breathe.”

Now, the question is, what will become of Tom DeLay’s 22nd congressional district seat? The Hammer himself acknowledged today that he was stepping down for political, as much as legal, reasons. Although he managed to win his primary race in Texas, polls were already showing weakened support for DeLay in his race against former congressman Nick Lampson, the Democratic nominee. (A recent Houston Chronicle survey found that “nearly 40 percent of 501 likely voters in his district said their opinion of DeLay is less favorable than last year, compared with 11 percent who said their view of him has improved”--a change the Chronicle attributed in large part to DeLay’s advocacy last year in the circus-ish Terri Schiavo case.) Salon’s Farhad Manjoo suggests the campaign could go either of two ways from here on out: (1) Democrats might now withdraw their financial backing of Lampson, figuring that it will be much harder for him to run against a less-tainted Republican in a district that Bush won with 64 percent of the vote in 2004; or (2) “he’s golden, because now he may challenge a candidate who’s weaker than DeLay, and the lefty hordes will strengthen their support of his effort if only to spite DeLay.” The future of this congressional contest may depend on whether Texas holds a special election to choose somebody to fill out the remainder of DeLay’s 11th term--a vote that would give any GOP victor a substantial leg up on winning in November; or Lone State Republicans simply anoint another candidate to replace DeLay in the general election against Lampson. Two GOP-ers are lining up to be picked: Tom Campbell, a former general counsel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who won 30 percent of the vote against DeLay in the March primary race (while DeLay walked away with 62 percent); and David Wallace, the mayor of Sugar Land, Texas, DeLay’s hometown, who has “close ties” to Bob Perry, a prominent Republican fundraiser, longtime friend of White House political strategist Karl Rove, and a heavy contributor to the egregiously misnamed Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which launched a smear campaign against Vietnam War hero John Kerry in 2004.

Undoubtedly, Republican strategists are hoping that Tom DeLay’s resignation will eliminate him as their party’s public face--the poster boy for the “culture of corruption” label with which Democrats hope to tar their rivals, and thus end 13 years of GOP control on Capitol Hill. But DeLay’s departure probably comes too late. Already, Gallup polling shows a dramatic shift in party loyalty among Americans, with 49 of respondents now calling themselves Democrats or leaning in that direction, while 42 percent define themselves as Republicans or lean that way. Just a year ago, the parties were even at 46 percent apiece. Furthermore, Dems continue to hold a substantial lead in generic balloting; a recent Time poll found that 50 percent of respondents would prefer to vote for a Democrat as their next congressperson, while only 41 percent chose Republican. Add to all of this well-publicized irritation over Bush among his congressional colleagues, debates about the need to censure (or impeach) the prez for approving an illegal domestic spying operation, rapidly declining support for Bush’s Iraq war (and the public abandonment of Bush by such stalwart conservatives as William F. Buckley, who calls the Iraq conflict a “failure”), skyrocketing budget deficits brought on by ill-timed tax cuts and untethered war spending, lingering displeasure over the Dubai Ports fiasco and brewing resentment over GOP efforts to criminalize undocumented workers coming into the United States, and of course the Abramoff scandal--which threatens to further expand its damage in Republican circles--and it’s no wonder that Republicans are worried as they look ahead to the November races. Odds are still against a Democratic takeover of Congress, thanks to the advantages of incumbency and a shortage of competitive races. Dems would need to pick up six more seats in the U.S. Senate to gain control of that body, or 15 seats in the House of Representatives to become the majority there (a daunting task, though not as difficult as winning 53 seats, which the GOP managed to do in its 1994, Gingrich-engineered upset).

However, the chances of such seismic shifts improve with each new Bush scandal, each new stumble by the Republican-dominated Congress, and each new example of presidential incompetence or breakdowns in GOP discipline. Midterm elections traditionally draw fewer voters than those in which a president is being elected, and recent prognostications suggest that small-government conservatives, upset by the fact that the federal government has actually grown substantially under Bush, and that there seems no end in sight to the costly and increasingly deadly Iraq conflict, might just stay home in November, increasing the impact made on races by Democrats and left-leaning independents. But a lot can change over the next seven months.

I suspect, though, that efforts to exploit Tom DeLay as the face of the modern Republican Party won’t change. At least not in the short term. Like Newt Gingrich before him, he’s a well-recognized symbol of arrogance, greed, and abuse of power. The man who once proclaimed hautily, in trying to get his way at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House, that “I am the federal government,” may no longer be drawing a congressional paycheck, but his influence on elections is expected to continue at least through November.

READ MORE:DeLay’s Fall Won’t End Corruption Issue,” by John Whitesides (Reuters); “DeLay Resignation Unlikely to Affect Election-Year Dynamics,” by Steve Thomma (Knight Ridder); “A Surprise Move Leaves Texas Politics in Disarray,” by Ralph Blumenthal (The New York Times); “Exterminate Thyself: Decoding Tom DeLay’s Exit Interview,” by John Dickerson (Slate); “Tom DeLay’s Exit Is Big Loss for House GOP,” by Gail Russell Chaddock and Kris Axtman (The Christian Science Monitor); “Down Goes DeLay,” by Cenk Uygur (The Huffington Post); “Jack Cafferty on DeLay: ‘Cocky Little Bandy Rooster’” (Crooks & Liars); “Anti-Christian Conspirators Slay DeLay,” by Robert Scheer (TruthDig); “DeLay Reaction,” by Sonia Smith (Slate).

1 comment:

JasonSpalding said...

Did you know that the top 30 nations based on dues paid to the United Nations are in a combined debt external as of June 2005 nearly $34 trillion U.S. dollars? With the population of the world given by U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division the debt of every person on the planet is just over $5,000. Norway is the only country that does not have any debts external. My question is who holds the debt?