|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
The New Yorker
by Hendrik Hertzberg
Issue of 2005-04-25
A current Washington joke, in the mordant style that used to be a Moscow specialty, has it that Republicans and Democrats have finally found something they can agree on: Tom DeLay must stay as the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives.
The DeLay Must Stay movement, like all popular fronts and uneasy alliances, brings together participants of varying motives. Republican members want to continue being led by the Texas bug exterminator turned hard-right Christianist crusader because they agree with him on the great political and religious issues of the day; because he is nice to them, feeding them pizza when they have to work late and finding places for the smokers among them to indulge without having to shiver on the Capitol steps; because they are terrified of him, on account of his well-deserved reputation for vengefulness; because he saved them from losing House seats in the 2004 election by persuading Texas to adopt a precedent-breaking mid-decade gerrymander that netted their party an overall gain of three seats; because he has raised millions for their campaigns, mostly from business interests that have reaped billions and expect to reap billions more from the policies he promotes; and because, using threats and inducements, he has insured that the choicest, highest-paying, most enviable lobbying jobs on Washington’s K Street corridor go overwhelmingly to Republicans in general and DeLay loyalists in particular. Democrats don’t mind if DeLay stays a while, because he is so repellent. Self-righteous, humorless, resentful, scowling, perpetually angry, he has many of the irritating qualities of his former colleague Newt Gingrich without any of the latter’s childlike charms. (There are no DeLay equivalents of Gingrich’s boyish enthusiasms for dinosaurs, sci-fi fantasies, and big, shiny theories of History.) And then there are the scandals, which cling to the Majority Leader like flakes of dandruff.
DeLay’s ethical lapses center on campaign-finance chicanery, with sidelines in petty nepotism and lavish trips to exotic locales near golf courses. The details tend to be numbingly dull—there are no Monicas or burglaries to spice them up—but the lapses themselves are real enough. Last year, three of them attracted the attention of the House ethics committee, which formally (though toothlessly) “admonished” him, making him one of only three representatives, and the only repeat offender, to be disciplined in the past three years. DeLay has since had the three most unreliable Republicans removed and replaced with stooges, and the ethics committee has devolved from torpid to moribund. But various newspapers (not just bastions of the coastal “liberal media” like the Times and the Washington Post but also red-state gazettes like the American Press, of Lake Charles, Louisiana) have continued to make inquiries, as has the (Democratic) district attorney for Austin, Texas, Ronnie Earle, who has already indicted three of DeLay’s closest associates and eight of their corporate donors. So far, only one serving Republican congressman—Christopher Shays, of Connecticut—has openly called upon DeLay to give up his leadership post. But cracks are beginning to appear in the outer wall. “delay must go” was the title last week of an editorial in the staunchly Republican Richmond Times-Dispatch. The editorialists of the Wall Street Journal, who last year dismissed ethics criticisms of DeLay as “amusing,” now write sternly, “Mr. DeLay, who rode to power in 1994 on a wave of revulsion at the everyday ways of big government, has become the living exemplar of some of its worst habits.” The headline on that one was “smells like beltway.”
What is most odiferous about DeLay, however, is not his Tammany-like antics but his Torquemada-like ones. The current fuss reached the boiling point on March 31st, when, after the body of Terri Schiavo was allowed to expire, DeLay—in a prepared statement, not an off-the-cuff remark—warned ominously, “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today.” The anodyne interpretation of this is that DeLay was talking about the hereafter, where various members of the Florida and federal judiciaries, having died of presumably natural causes, will stand before their Maker, who will proceed to drop-kick them into the fiery pit. Some observers, noting the recent spate of actual, attempted, and threatened assassinations of judges, perceived a touch of this-worldly incitement; Senator Frank Lautenberg, of New Jersey, suggested that DeLay might have violated a statute outlawing such threats against federal judges.
Meanwhile, as new ethics allegations surfaced, DeLay huddled with colleagues from the other body for a strategy session. According to the Associated Press:
His private remarks to Senate Republicans were in keeping with the response frequently offered on his behalf by House Republicans: Blame the Democrats and occasionally the news media for the scrutiny he faces. House Republicans intend to follow the script later in the week, hoping to showcase passage of bankruptcy legislation and estate tax repeal as a counterpoint to Democratic charges that they are merely power-hungry.
The hope, evidently, was to deflect charges of being merely power-hungry by inviting charges of being—on behalf of wealthy contributors—merely money-hungry. (The bankruptcy bill, which has since passed, is a gift to the banking and credit-card industries; estate-tax repeal, still pending in the Senate, would be an even bigger gift to the superrich.) Where DeLay is concerned, at least, the ploy hasn’t worked. Gingrich, of all people, has now called upon DeLay to account for himself. (“DeLay’s problem isn’t with the Democrats,” the former Speaker told the “CBS Evening News” last week. “DeLay’s problem is with the country.”)
Finally, last Wednesday, DeLay expressed regret for the style of his March 31st remarks. “I said something in an inartful way, and I shouldn’t have said it that way, and I apologize for saying it that way,” he said at a news conference. No apologies for the substance, though. “I believe in an independent judiciary,” he said, and went on to explain what he meant: “We”—Congress—“set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse.” He declined to say whether the judges in the Schiavo case should be impeached, though that particular remedy for “judicial activism” is one that he has been advocating since 1997.
Earlier that day, DeLay had given an interview to the Washington Times, the far right’s daily organ in the capital. For the most part, he was careful to avoid getting himself in more trouble. “I’m not sure I want to go there,” he said in answer to a question about which bits of the government he’d like to abolish. And, to a question about Israeli settlements in the West Bank: “You’re not going to get me in a fight with the President.” But when asked who is to blame for “activist judges,” he was jaw-droppingly candid:
I blame Congress over the last fifty to a hundred years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that’s nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn’t stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn’t stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn’t stop them.
So there you have it, the DeLay agenda: no separation of church and state, no judicial review, no right to privacy. Next to this, the President’s effort to repeal the New Deal social contract by phasing out Social Security is the mewing of a kitten. DeLay may stay or DeLay may go. But the real danger is not DeLay himself. It’s DeLay’s agenda. It’s his vision. It’s his “values.”
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