Thursday, May 5, 2005

Hindsight

Michael Tomasky of The American Prospect says we should have taken out Tom DeLay years ago.

On successive days in mid-November 2002, Tom DeLay was elected House majority leader, replacing the retired Dick Armey, and Nancy Pelosi was chosen as the House Democrats’ leader, succeeding Dick Gephardt. One of those had amassed a capable but relatively quiet record of service in the House of Representatives, stirring controversy only once (by supporting the primary opponent of a longtime congressional incumbent from Michigan). The other had called the Environmental Protection Agency “the Gestapo of government”; had denounced the Nobel Chemistry Prize, after it was given to the discoverers of the link between chlorofluorocarbons and ozone depletion, as the “Nobel Appeasement Prize”; had called CNN the “Communist News Network”; had linked the Columbine High School shootings to birth control and day care; had avoided military service during the height of the Vietnam War in 1969 (reportedly explaining, in 1988, that so many minority youths were going after those well-paying military gigs that there was no room for good folk like himself); had led a fanatical crusade to force votes on articles of impeachment against a president with an approval rating above 70 percent; and had been rebuked (privately) by the House Ethics Committee for attacking a business trade group for daring to hire a former Democratic congressman as its president.

And guess which choice the media said was a calamity?

You got it. Ellen Goodman cataloged some of the grim assessments of Pelosi in a Boston Globe column at the time: “The Economist called her ‘a disaster for the Democrats.’ The National Review foamed — and foam is the right word — that she was a ‘latte liberal.’ Rush Limbaugh dubbed her ‘Miss America’ and his political-porn Web site featured her head on a beauty queen’s body.” Beyond that — well, you’ll recall the promiscuous usage at the time, by no means limited to commentators of the right, of the moniker “San Francisco liberal,” invoked with all the freight that phrase was intended to carry. DeLay got a few newspaper profiles that duly took note of his minatory reputation, but that also jocularly conveyed a ceremonial vignette in which he handed a hammer wrapped in velvet to his successor as House majority whip.

There are superficial reasons why this was so. Pelosi is a woman, and was the first woman in history elevated to such a post. DeLay was already more of a known quantity. We live in an age in which “San Francisco liberal” can plausibly be called a pejorative, while “Houston conservative” doesn’t quite fill that bill. But there’s a deeper reason: Most of Washington, including crucial constituencies like the mainstream media and moderate Republicans, hasn’t been willing to come to grips with how profoundly corrupt and un-American Tom DeLay is.

[…]

…if DeLay goes, there will be people in Washington congratulating themselves on having been part of a system that, once again, “worked,” fumigating itself of an intruder who went too far and didn’t accept the rules.

Nonsense. The system isn’t working by a long shot. If the system had worked, DeLay would have been exposed long ago — first by the media, which would have done far more to reveal the ethical and procedural corruption of his regime, and second by moderate Republicans, who could have made a difference if they’d had the nerve, en bloc, to stand up and say something. It’s a shame, and an indictment of what’s happened to the political culture, that if Tom DeLay goes down, it will be because of things he did to Tom DeLay (the paid-for trips, the family on the payroll). History will look back and decide — unless all the historians have been appointed by David Horowitz by then — that DeLay presided over a grotesque de-democratization of the so-called representative body of the people; that he served two masters only, corporate America and fanatical religious hypocrites, at the expense of regular Americans (and traditional, respectable conservative principles); that he corrupted our politics by giving friends like the amoral lobbyist Jack Abramoff the run of the House; and, most importantly, that a lot of people who could have said something about all this louder and sooner didn’t bother to.

So if Tom DeLay is still the House Majority Leader in June or still around for the 2006 elections, it won’t be because he’s innocent and pure; it will be because the people around him who support him are just as amoral as he is and the people who oppose him are too weak or worried about their own skin to stand up to him. And if the SCLM doesn’t dig up more bad news for him, it won’t be because it’s not there — it will be because there’s more money and circulation in celebrity trials and runaway brides. Pitiful.