|Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore|
Tom DeLay's House of Shame
Congress has always had its share of extremists. But the DeLay era is the first time the fringe has ever been in charge.
By Jonathan Alter
Oct. 10, 2005 issue - A decade ago, I paid a call on Tom DeLay in his ornate office in the Capitol. I had heard a rumor about him that I figured could not possibly be true. The rumor was that after the GOP took control of the House that year, DeLay had begun keeping a little black book with the names of Washington lobbyists who wanted to come see him. If the lobbyists were not Republicans and contributors to his power base, they didn't get into "the people's House." DeLay not only confirmed the story, he showed me the book. His time was limited, DeLay explained with a genial smile. Why should he open his door to people who were not on the team?
Thus began what historians will regard as the single most corrupt decade in the long and colorful history of the House of Representatives. Come on, you say. How about all those years when congressmen accepted cash in the House chamber and then staggered onto the floor drunk? Yes, special interests have bought off members of Congress at least since Daniel Webster took his seat while on the payroll of a bank. And yes, Congress over the years has seen dozens of sex scandals and dozens of members brought low by financial improprieties. But never before has the leadership of the House been hijacked by a small band of extremists bent on building a ruthless shakedown machine, lining the pockets of their richest constituents and rolling back popular protections for ordinary people. These folks borrow like banana republics and spend like Tip O'Neill on speed.
I have no idea if DeLay has technically broken the law. What interests me is how this moderate, evenly divided nation came to be ruled on at least one side of Capitol Hill by a zealot. This is a man who calls the Environmental Protection Agency "the Gestapo of government" and favors repealing the Clean Air Act because "it's never been proven that air toxins are hazardous to people"; who insists repeatedly that judges on the other side of issues "need to be intimidated" and rejects the idea of a separation of church and state; who claims there are no parents trying to raise families on the minimum wage—that "fortunately, such families do not exist" (at least Newt Gingrich was intrigued by the challenges of poverty); who once said: "A woman can't take care of the family. It takes a man to provide structure." I could go on all day. Congress has always had its share of extremists. But the DeLay era is the first time the fringe has ever been in charge.
The only comparison to DeLay Co. might be the Radical Republicans of the 1860s. But the 19th-century Radical Republican agenda was to integrate and remake the South. The 21st-century Radical Republican agenda is to enact the wish list of the tobacco and gun lobbies, repeal health and safety regulations and spend billions on shameless pork-barrel projects to keep the GOP at the trough. Another analogy is to Republican Speaker Joe Cannon, who ran the House with an iron fist a century ago. But Cannon had to contend with Progressive Republicans who eventually stripped him of his power. DeLay's ruling radical conservative claque remains united, at least for now.
Comparisons with fellow Texan Sam Rayburn fall short, too. Rayburn was respected on both sides of the aisle for his rock-solid integrity. He and most other House speakers carefully balanced their support for corporate interests like the oil depletion allowance with at least some sense of the public good. And they had to share much of their power with committee chairmen. Today, seniority is much less important. Chairmen are term-limited (six years) or tossed if they displease DeLay. And this crowd views "the public interest" as strictly for liberal pantywaists.
How have they succeeded? A new book, "Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy," by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, explains how the GOP is simply better than the Democratic Party at the basic blocking and tackling of politics, including the exploitation of cultural and religious issues. The authors argue that even if DeLay goes down, the zealotry and corporate shilling will continue as long as the GOP controls the House. Consider DeLay's temporary replacement, Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt. The Washington Post reported last week that Blunt is respected by Republican members in part because he has "strong ties to the Washington lobbying community." That's a qualification for office?
The only reason the House hasn't done even more damage is that the Senate often sands down the most noxious ideas, making the bills merely bad, not disastrous. What next for the House of Shame? If DeLay's acquitted, he'll be back in power. If he's convicted, his proteges will continue his work. Reform efforts by fiscal conservatives determined to curb their borrow-and-spend colleagues are probably doomed. The only way to get rid of the termites eating away the people's House is to stamp them out at the next election.
Comments: Post a Comment