Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tom DeLay bows out

Who is happier here, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats whose aspirations were thwarted at every turn by an adversary who defined the term Hardball or a broad swath of House Republicans whose saw their own reputations and careers being sucked into the vortex of controversy surrounding their Leader?

Or perhaps Jack Danforth, the former Missouri Senator, patrician and scion of the Ralston Purina fortune who has railed on op-ed pages against the rightward march of the Republican Party and who along with a whole wing of the Party longs for the days of a softer, less partisan polity.

Or perhaps Jim Baker, the Bush family consigliere and wily Republican partisan who oversaw the Republican strategy during the Florida 2000 recount, but who despises DeLay’s street fighting style, his utter lack of class and his aspirations to top-dog status in Texas. Jim Baker’s status, that is.

Or perhaps Newt Gingrich––the visionary architect of the Republican Party as the party of ideas who saw power as a means to implement change––whose demise as Speaker was crafted by his long-time rival DeLay, a man of no civic virtue whose aspirations for power were in the interest of no vision other than the spoils of victory.

Or perhaps President Bush who emerged from his summer vacation reeling from a public backlash that is gaining strength on all fronts. Whether it be what we are doing in Iraq, what we are failing to do in Afghanistan, what we have been unable to do with Osama, what we did not do after Katrina, what the prosecutors are suggesting Jack Abramoff did, what the right wing of his party is demanding he do with the seat of Sandra Day O’Connor, what the left wing of his party is demanding he do with the seat of Sandra Day O’Connor, and now, the pesky problem of how to pay for war, peace, reconstruction and prescription drugs all at once, President Bush needs Tom DeLay and his relentless partisanship like another confrontation with a nuclear state. Oh, that’s right, there is Iran.

The irony is that the crime for which Tom DeLay has been indicted would appear to be fairly common in the world of political fundraising: He directed corporate contributions that could not under Texas law be given to a local political race to the Republican National Committee. He then worked to have the RNC fund targeted local political races. The net effect, the indictment suggests, was to circumvent the State laws prohibiting corporate contributions to local political races.

That is the essence of the DeLay indictment. From a practical standpoint, it is all a form of money laundering to avoid local fundraising limitations. However, in concept it is a common practice. Local fundraisers will often steer contributions that are not legal locally to a national party where they are permitted. And in turn, local political races often receive money from the national party committees.

Now, it may be that DeLay and his friends crossed the line into illegal territory by linking the two sides of the transaction too closely, and it may be that this will turn out to be just the beginning of a crackdown on wider abuses, but as one political consultant mused, “If people are going to go down for this, they better get a fleet of 747s and get ready to fly the lawyers out to a lot of state capitols and begin handing out the indictments.”

And this may just be the beginning for DeLay. The pending FBI investigation of DeLay’s links to the influence peddler Jack Abramoff may well be one that takes him down.

But whether DeLay is convicted in Texas, in DC or nowhere, his days in the House leadership are over. At his news conference, DeLay announced that once this mess is cleared up, he will reassume his position as Majority Leader, but he is mistaken. As Newt Gingrich can attest, people have short memories and little loyalty to the person that brought them to the promised land. For all of the success that DeLay brought to the Republicans over the past several years, he made a lot of enemies and stepped on a lot of toes. The seat of power that was once his has been passed on, and once it is gone, it is very hard to get back.

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