Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gone But Not Forgotten - Tom DeLay's Legacy

One of the speakers called it an irony of "mythic proportions" -- that Tom DeLay's last day in office should coincide with the start of the Texas Democratic convention and the official nomination of Chris Bell, the former congressman and now gubernatorial candidate who initiated the ethics charges that eventually resulted in DeLay's resignation. In his swan song last week, rather than the traditional bipartisan olive branch, Mr. DeLay took one last opportunity to stick a figurative finger in the eye of Congressional Democrats.

Pundits are still weighing in on Mr. DeLay's legacy, but judging from a sampling of the editorials published in the last few days, time alone may not be enough to burnish the reputation of one of the most controversial political figures of his era. Here's a sampling:

"In any time or place, on any issue, what does liberalism ever seek, Mr. Speaker?" DeLay asked. "More. More government, more taxation, more control over people's lives and decisions and wallets."

Yet it was conservatism, at least as DeLay embodied it, that has enacted a vast expansion of government power over the people, culminating in the utterly bizarre episode in which Congress was called back from recess to intervene in the Terri Schiavo tragedy.....

It was also under DeLay's leadership in the House that government spending -- even nondefense spending -- rose faster than it had in four decades under the Democrats, and that all controls were removed from pork barrel appropriations. In response to that criticism, DeLay actually argued that "there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget" of $2.5 trillion.

DeLay was a hypocrite who sold out "old school" conservative values of smaller government in order to spread the pork that bought the votes that pleased the lobbyists who paid for the House that Tom built.

Part of the reason that DeLay was so effective was his unwavering conviction in the righteousness of his goals. He embraced the concept of Atwater and Rove that politics is war, and in war, the end justifies the means.

Reading the list of political achievements he recited in his farewell speech to thunderous applause from his GOP colleagues, one is perplexed as to why he is walking away from it all. Surely, the FBI agents and Texas prosecutors who are hounding him following the guilty pleas of former top DeLay associates are unaware that he is doing the Lord's work?

"Mr. Speaker, as God is my witness and history is my judge," DeLay proclaimed dramatically, insisting he has at all times acted "honorably and honestly." Modestly placing himself in the company of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, he celebrated his engineering of the destruction of wicked liberalism by any means necessary.

DeLay believed in doing well by doing good, at least as defined by his donors. He brazenly and openly declared that he would not entertain lobbyists who had not contributed to Republican fundraising, and then set about changing the rules to remove any barriers to consolidating Republican power.
DeLay will be forever remembered as the political hack who melded party fund-raising, special-interest influence buying and the legislative process into a perfect storm of institutional corruption, permanent partisan warfare and astonishingly bad lawmaking. He is leaving a Congress that is held in almost universal disdain by the American people. His name will be forever linked to that of convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the king of K Street. And as he goes off to defend himself against criminal charges of his own, DeLay leaves behind a still brewing ethics scandal that may yet envelop still more of his hapless ex-colleagues.
In the end, DeLay's contempt for subtleties may be a back-handed gift. Only through such over-the-top, mouth-gaping excess, was it possible to bring almost universal contempt for his corruption of the political system. In today's world of spin, anything less would have seemed justifiable. But ethics reform has been a paper tiger, and DeLay's prodigies, although lacking his vicious skills, nonetheless constitute more of the same. It will take a coup in Washington, and a true dose of populism, to turn this tide.

We'll leave the last word to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A little partisanship is not a bad thing. That’s why we have political parties: to reflect different political values. But governance is the art of compromise in the interest of the nation as a whole, and there DeLay’s two decades in Congress were an unmitigated disgrace. ...

In the end, Tom DeLay, the former pest exterminator from Houston, himself became a human cockroach, scuttling under the door when the lights were turned on. Good riddance.

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