Thursday, September 29, 2005

If I Had a Hammer

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

The Washington Post reports that, due to an indictment on campaign-finance-related conspiracy charges, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas has stepped aside, at least temporarily, until his legal problems are cleared up. In his place, the House Republican caucus selected Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri.

According to the Post:

Conservatives objected to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's choice of California Republican David Dreier as a replacement for DeLay.

There was one big problem: When DeLay's indictment was unsealed yesterday, conservatives in the GOP caucus immediately erupted in anger over rumors that the selection of Dreier, whom they regard as too moderate, was being presented as a fait accompli.

As the conservatives met to vent frustrations and plot options, Hastert was changing course in a separate meeting on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the majority whip, was making a personal appeal for the promotion. Hastert agreed, forestalling a possible revolt by conservatives, who regard Blunt as one of their own.
There's another, far more obvious and unfortunately more sinister explanation for the conservatives' revolt: David Dreier is widely rumored to be gay, something acknowledged frequently in the British press (facing, oddly enough, far more plaintiff-friendly libel laws than the American media faces) and something that, it goes without saying, is unacceptable to social conservatives in the Republican Party. (Just ask Congressman -- and former Senate candidate -- Mark Foley.)

For instance, The Scotsman, in reporting that Prime Minister Tony Blair's son, Euan Blair, would be interning for Dreier, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, said:
Mr Dreier, who will be the 21-year-old's mentor during his internship, has been accused of hypocrisy for opposing legislation to stop discrimination against gay couples when questions have been asked about his personal life.

He is believed to live with his male chief of staff and has refused to comment on his sexuality.

However, campaigners have accused him of double standards, pointing to his voting record in which he has opposed legislation to ban discrimination against gay people in employment and supported a ban on gay and lesbian couples adopting in the district of Columbia, as well as rejecting hate-crimes legislation intended to protect gays.
And The Independent, a center-left quality paper based in London, had this to say on the same topic:
David Dreier, the Republican congressman expected to mentor Tony Blair's eldest son Euan during a summer internship in Washington, is a hypocritical homosexual with an anti-gay voting record, critics allege.
(My personal favorite was the June 26 headline in a blog called "Gay Orbit": "Blair’s Son to be Mentored By Gay Congressman.")

The political worlds of London and Washington are close enough that such rumors, even if they were being reported in tabloids alongside Page Six girls, are always close the surface and affect political decisionmaking.

Whoever succeeds DeLay, however, should not concern conservatives very much. It is widely acknowledged among lobbyists and other Washington insiders that even though DeLay has given up his titular leadership in the Republican caucus, he will still be standing in the shadows and giving orders through his erstwhile deputy, Blunt. DeLay is not the sort of politician who easily gives up power and he is not about to do so, even if he has to be the man behind the curtain pulling the levers and flashing the lights to make us believe that Blunt -- or even Hastert -- is the "great and powerful Oz." (Too bad Blunt comes from Missouri instead of Kansas; wouldn't that make the analogy too precious for words?)

Frankly, I'm surprised that conservatives of any stripe would be upset by DeLay's departure from the scene, as temporary or as phony as it might be. As recently as last week, DeLay fed the Washington Times a line that even the most gullible Republican envelope-stuffer would find hard to swallow:
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget.

Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."
I was not the only Republican who was incredulous at DeLay's statement. David Keene of the American Conservative Union was shocked, too, and in the same article, Representative Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), one of the heroes of true conservatives (and libertarians) in Congress, said:
"This is hardly a well-oiled machine," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. "There's a lot of fat to trim. ... I wonder if we've been serving in the same Congress."
Tom DeLay is a perfect example of Stan Evans' oft-quoted epigram that "when our friends get elected, they cease to be our friends."

Add to this DeLay's bizarre statements of the past year -- taking issue with Supreme Court justices for using the Internet to do legal research and by complaining about the use of his name as a throw-away line within a fictional TV show -- and you have an array of reasons why conservatives should be glad to see him go, not just from his leadership position, but from Congress itself.

Conservatives should be happy to replace DeLay with someone who can do a better job at leading the party on Capitol Hill in a principled, responsible manner.

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