AUSTIN, Texas – In general, I’m against kicking em when they’re down … unless really awful people are involved. I figured Tom DeLay is so awful, plenty of people would gang up on him and I could pass.
Imagine my surprise when the toughest question one famous TV tough guy could come up with was, “Do you think you invested too much in the Republican Party?” Another inquired whether DeLay could think of any mistakes he’d made. I waited with bated breath for the immortal, “I wish I could learn not to work so hard,” but no, he couldn’t think of a single one.
Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay first came to power promising to restore democracy to the House of Representatives, supposedly suffering from then-Speaker Jim Wright’s tyrannical regime. Even after the Rs drove Wright from office, however, bipartisanship was out of the question for DeLay. In the budget fight and government shutdown of 1995, for instance, DeLay rejected compromise and famously said, “It’s time for all-out war.”
I never minded DeLay being a tough guy – it was his syrupy claims to carry the banner for Christianity that I found offensive, as he frog-marched the House toward being a cash-operated special-interest machine. The idea of putting pressure on lobbyists to give only to Republicans, pressuring lobbying firms into hiring only Republicans and then letting lobbyists sit at the table during committee meetings where legislation was written – it was just screaming overt corruption.
Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich turned the U.S. House of Representatives, “the people’s House,” into a pay-for-play machine for corporations. Put in enough money, get your special tax exemption, get your earmarked government contract, get your trade legislation and your environmental exemption, get rid of safety regulation.
I’d like to address the idea that what DeLay did was only “payback” for the alleged sins of Jim Wright and then-House Majority Whip Tony Coelho, that it’s “our turn” at the trough, so why not act like Dan Rostenkowski? It’s a great way to rationalize misbehavior, even if the misbehavior is as disproportionate as Wright’s ethical peccadillo compared to the open corruption of DeLay’s “K Street Project,” selling Congress to the lobby.
I’ve watched enough switches of political power and use of the “payback” excuse to realize that what the new Ins call “payback” has little to do with whatever the new Outs used to do. It is, instead, a direct reflection – “projection,” the shrinks call it – of the ethical values of the Ins onto the Outs. Every time you hear a misdeed justified by, “Well, they used to do it,” you can generally mark off a 50 percent to 75 percent exaggeration.
To get a real sense of DeLay’s cynicism and recklessness, forget the stuff the press loves, like the “free golfing trip” to St. Andrew’s. Instead, take note of the following example.
The Northern Marianas Islands are a U.S. protectorate (so it can label goods “Made in the USA”) in the Pacific being used as a sort of labor gulag, with workers imported from China and elsewhere and paid pitiful wages. Jack Abramoff had a contract with the government of the Marianas to lobby against stopping the flow of immigrant labor to the islands and to prevent a minimum wage bill (mandating a level higher than the island’s standard $3.05 per hour) from getting to the floor of the House.
The islands are home to classic sweatshops. In 1996 and 1997, Abramoff billed the Marianas for 187 contacts with DeLay’s office, including 16 meetings with DeLay. In December 1997, DeLay, his wife and their daughter went on an Abramoff-arranged jaunt to the Marianas. DeLay brunched with the Marianas’ largest private employer, textile magnate Willie Tan.
Tan had to settle a U.S. Labor Department lawsuit alleging workplace violations. According to the book “The Hammer” by Lou Dubose and Jan Reid, among the violations common on the islands is forbidding women to work when they are pregnant, thus leading to a high abortion rate.
Evidently, DeLay didn’t have time to look into such allegations, since he was busy playing golf and attending a dinner in his honor, sponsored by Tan’s holding company. According to The Washington Post, it was at this dinner that DeLay called Abramoff “one of my closest and dearest friends.” He also reminded those present of his promise that no minimum wage or immigration legislation affecting the Marianas would be passed.
“Stand firm,” he added. “Resist evil. Remember that all truth and blessings emanate from our Creator.” He then went with Tan to see a cockfight.
This is why DeLay’s professions of Christianity make me sick. He was there. He could have talked to the workers. Instead, he chose to walk with the powerful and do real harm to the very people Jesus mandated we especially care for.
Molly Ivins is a syndicated columnist.