On American politics and policy.
Now we know why Tom DeLay decided to quit Congress. It wasn't becausehe resigned as Majority Leader last September in advance of his moneylaundering trial in Texas. Or because his Abramoff-connected aidesran what the Washington Post dubbed "a far-reaching criminalenterprise operating out of DeLay's office." Or because was going tolose his re-election race this November.
No, it was because of the Lord. From Peter Perl's devastatingWP article on Sunday:
DeLay recently told one of his pastors that God wanted him to leaveCongress in part because He has bigger plans for DeLay. That pastor,the Rev. Rick Scarborough, introduced DeLay to a Christian conferencejust last week, saying, "This is a man, I believe, God hasappointed . . . to represent righteousness in government."
No, this isn't coming from The Onion, but courtesy of the author ofLiberalism Kills Kids, via the "War on Christians" conference.Naturally, Scarborough's the perfect pastor for DeLay now that hisold spiritual advisor, Ed Buckham, is moving from The Hammer to theslammer. Here's the really scary part:
In DeLay's world he answers only to a higher power, and his personalArmageddon has only just begun. He will artfully squeeze a load ofmoney from the Christian Right as he makes his thunderous argumentfrom multiple pulpits in the weeks and months ahead. The new TomDeLay will combine aspects of the Revs. Pat Robertson and JerryFalwell, and Lee Atwater, the late right-wing political consultantwith the legendary killer instinct.
Let me posit an alternate explanation. Now that DeLay's become a self-described sinner, it's time for him to go. Let us pray that hefinds salvation from a prison cell.
Following up on John Nichols' post about Silvio Berlusconi's likely election defeat, I'm posting a dispatch from our ace Washington intern Cora Currier, who lived in Italy and, unlike the rest of us, speaks fluent Italian.
Berlusconi's parading as Bush's buddy at the start of the Iraq war was the least of his problems. Italy's slick, perpetually tanned billionaire prime minister will likely lose the election because, after five years of scandals and corruption, Italians have had enough of his antics. Before the election he ceded to overwhelming popular opinion by promising to pull Italian troops from Iraq by the year's end, but it was too late to save face.
While Italy's economy floundered, Berlusconi, ranked the country's richest man by Forbes Magazine, was busy re-writing laws to avoid charges of tax-fraud, corruption and bribery. During the run-up to the election, supporters of opposition candidate Romano Prodi protested the inequality of TV time between the candidates. Little surprise: through various businesses, Berlusconi controls an alleged 90 percent of the national media. Last week Berlusconi announced to supporters at a rally in Naples: "we will win because we are not coglioni," using a vulgar term literally meaning "testicles" to paint the opposition as "assholes." The next day, T-shirts were seen on the streets of Rome reading Io Sono un Coglione: "I am an asshole." Looks there are quite a few of them in Italy these days…
Oh, how House Republicans must miss Tom DeLay. There have been a series of embarrassments for the House leadership since DeLay stepped down as Majority Leader in September. The decision to pull their own 2007 budget from consideration on the House floor yesterday "was the latest and clearest illustration of the Republicans' difficulties in holding lawmakers together with a crucial election approaching," the New York Times wrote.
The aforementioned budget would extend Bush's costly tax cuts, add $3 trillion to the national debt over five years, and cut billions of dollars for education, job training and veterans health care. When conservative Republicans tried to enact even harsher budget rules limiting Congress's ability to control emergency spending for war and natural disasters, powerful House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis balked, dooming the budget for now.
The conventional narrative in Washington has been reversed. Democrats stood firm as Republicans fell apart. The so-called "party of ideas" have none, or at least can no longer agree on what they are.
Even DeLay concurs. "We don't have an agreed agenda," he told reporters this week. "Breaking up our leadership has taken its toll."
The media should be talking about Tom DeLay and the collapse of the conservative movement. About immigration reform and the divide in the Republican Party. About how the Bush Administration is trying to export democracy to Iraq while cutting funds for democracy promotion. About how four House Republicans are pushing to force the House to debate the war. Or--if you want something seedy--about how yet another Bush Administration official was arrested, this time for trying to seduce a 14-year-old girl over the Internet.
Instead, they can't get enough of Cynthia McKinney, a controversial Democrat from Georgia who last week punched a police officer on Capitol Hill. It's not just Fox News. Wolf Blitzer had her in the Situation Room. Even Jon Stewart last night juxtaposed images of DeLay and McKinney, as if their sins were equal. And McKinney inexplicably keeps the story alive by holding media appearance after media appearance.
The Nation defended McKinney when the right-wing and AIPAC slimed her as an anti-Semite back in 2002. But, as far as I'm concerned, she's on her own now.
Maybe she was racially profiled, as McKinney adamantly claims. But there are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Surely Capitol Police don't always recognize every member, especially when they've just changed their hair style and aren't wearing any identification. It may have been an honest mistake.
So, for the good of the country and your party Ms. McKinney, can we move on?
I'm glad John Kerry finally has a coherent position on the war in Iraq. He's against it, and he wants US troops to leave. I just wish he would have said so two years ago, when it might have made a difference. From his New York Times op-ed today:
Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave.
If Iraq's leaders succeed in putting together a government, then we must agree on another deadline: a schedule for withdrawing American combat forces by year's end. Doing so will empower the new Iraqi leadership, put Iraqis in the position of running their own country and undermine support for the insurgency, which is fueled in large measure by the majority of Iraqis who want us to leave their country. Only troops essential to finishing the job of training Iraqi forces should remain.
The question now: will more of Kerry's Senate colleagues follow suit?
Did Tom DeLay decide to step down abruptly because he thought he would lose a tough re-election fight? Or did he decide to jump ship before his party returned to minority status?
His money-laundering trial will soon begin in Texas. Former top aides recently pled guilty to "a far-reaching criminal enterprise operating out of DeLay's office," as the Washington Post put it. The internal polling numbers in Sugar Land, Texas, were not good.
DeLay may have been able to stay afloat and squeak out a narrow election victory. He'd still have a plum seat on the Appropriations Committee, doling out federal dollars to his favorite pet projects and corporate benefactors. But as an architect of the Republican majority, toiling in the minority would be a hard pill to swallow.
His colleagues better prepare for the worst. Here's what New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks forecasted over the weekend:
There's the war. There's really a torpor in the administration. They're not doing anything right now. I think it's now likely to move the House--that they will lose the House. And I think House Republicans, privately, most of them admit that. For like a year they were saying, `Well, we've got it so sewed up with redistricting. We'll lose, but we won't lose the whole House.' I'd say about two weeks ago the conventional wisdom shifted and people said, `We're in such trouble. We are going to lose the House.'
Henry Waxman with subpoena power. John Conyers with impeachment power. John Murtha with war spending power. The Democratic dream would become a Republican nightmare, paid for and sponsored in part by Tom DeLay.
Congress needs to remember the lyrics from that old Clash song: "I fought the law and the law won."
A series of remarkable events last week proves why.
Jack Abramoff was sentenced in Florida, a prelude to his trial in Washington. Days later Tony Rudy, a former top aide to Abramoff and Tom DeLay, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges--the third figure implicated thus far in L'Affair Abramoff. More indictments are coming down the pike.
The Justice Department did its job. But Congress didn't do theirs.
The Senate passed an incredibly weak lobbying reform bill. The House voted, on party lines, against initiating a congressional investigation into Abramoff's influence over members of Congress. The House Ethics Committee, the body charged with policing fellow members, did finally meet for the first time in a year, but refused to take up any new investigations.
Nothing new there. How many more indictments will it take before members of Congress see the light?
Trumpets blared on the loudspeaker. Dozens of members of Congress gathered on a makeshift stage, draped by giant American flags, cops, firefighters and veterans in uniform, and a huge banner reading "Real Security." In advance of the midterm elections, the Democrats were determined to appear both "smart and tough," a phrase used by Indiana Senator Evan Bayh that has become common parlance for the party.
Their national security agenda, released today after months of bickering, pledged to modernize the military, kill Osama bin Laden, kick our oil addition and immediately implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations for homeland security. But on the issue of Iraq--the most pressing security concern for most Americans--the Democrats remained deliberately vague. Their alternative states:
Ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.
What that means no one quite knows. As blogger Atrios writes, "If 2006 fails to be 'a year of significant transition' what will Democrats be saying then?"
Mostly, Democratic leaders stuck to poll-tested sound-bites. Namely, one theme: the Bush Administration's incompetence.
Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid: "Dangerous incompetence."General Wesley Clark: "Incompetent leadership."Madeleine Albright: "Rank incompetence."
All the talk of incompetence made me think of an American Prospect article from October entitled "The Incompetence Dodge." Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias wrote:
The incompetence critique is, in short, a dodge -- a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the obviously grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place.
Exactly right. If before pro-war Democrats used the incompetence argument to dodge how and why we entered Iraq, today they're using the same language to circumvent any real discussion of how we get out.
There was a moment, after Abramoff's guilty plea in January, when real reform seemed possible. Everything was on the table, anxious leaders of both parties declared. Everyone wanted to be a reformer. No more.
New Majority Leader John Boehner has nixed the efforts of Dennis Hastert and David Dreier in the House. The Democratic plan stands no chance of passing a Republican Congress. And the Senate has failed to adopt or even consider any of the reforms that would actually make a difference: publicly financed elections, an independent ethics enforcement agency with teeth, a ban on lobbyist fundraising.
"Reform legislation is now crippled," Public Citizen declared yesterday.
The opportunities for overhaul do not appear often. The last time Congress took up lobbying was 1995. Since then the profession has exploded, its influence at an all-time high. See "Billions for Big Oil."
The American people want a dramatic cleanup, as I wrote a few months back:
Ninety percent of respondents in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll say it should be illegal for lobbyists to give members of Congress gifts, trips or other things of value. More than two-thirds of the public don't want lobbyists giving campaign contributions to Congressmen or Congressional candidates. A majority believe lobbyists shouldn't organize fundraisers on a candidate's behalf.
Tough luck. Banning gifts and meals is enough for most Senators. Refuse a hamburger and call it a day. Abramoff is all but forgotten in Washington--that is, until another indictment hits the front page.
UPDATE: The legislation passed this afternoon 90-8. I'm assuming Sens. McCain, Graham, Obama, Feingold and Kerry voted against the bill because it was too weak. Sens. Coburn, Inhofe and DeMint presumably voted nay because they oppose the entire concept of lobbying reform.
So much for "straight talk." If you needed any more proof that the maverick John McCain will run as the ultimate insider come 2008, scroll down.
McCain, February 28, 2000, Virginia Beach, Virginia:
I am a pro-life, pro-family fiscal conservative, an advocate of a strong defense, and yet Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and a few Washington leaders of the pro-life movement call me an unacceptable presidential candidate. They distort my pro- life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters.
Why? Because I don't pander to them, because I don't ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message.
Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right.
Press release from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, March 28, 2006:
American military hero and Arizona Sen. John McCain will deliver the Commencement message at Liberty University on May 13, at 9:30 a.m., in the Liberty University Vines Center.
While Sen. McCain and Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell have had their share of political differences through the years, the two men share a common respect for each other and have become good friends in their efforts to preserve what they see as common values. This will mark his first ever appearance at Liberty University.
More from the Lynchburg, Virginia News & Advance:
Falwell said McCain's appearance at LU's graduation is another sign that McCain is wooing evangelical Christians.
"He is in the process of healing the breech with evangelical groups," Falwell said.
Falwell said McCain has expressed a willingness to support a Federal Marriage Amendment, an issue dear to conservative Christians.
Our cover story on McCain back in November showed him juggling images of Teddy Roosevelt and Falwell. The "agent of intolerance" has become his new best friend.