"We think in generalities, we live in details"
RE: virus: The Harder They Fall
« on: 2006-01-27 13:06:36 »
[Blunderov] Meanwhile, back at the plantation...
The Harder They Fall
Republicans are scrambling to clean their House -- but the dirt won't wash
off "The Republicans are now and always have been the party of reform," said
a grinning David Dreier, surveying the crowd of journalists in the
congressional radio and TV gallery.
The nattily dressed House Rules committee chairman then paused, as if to
give someone in the crowd a chance to chuck a bottle at his head. No one
did. So he went on: "I see this," he said, "as a wonderful new opportunity
for us . . ."
Again, he paused. No bottles, no rotten tomatoes, no clouds of flying
dog-shit landing with a slap! on his receding forehead. Given what the
Republican leadership might have expected, at a press conference unveiling a
"lobby reform" package in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal (what Dreier
meant by "this"), the event was a smashing success.
Standing next to Dreier, nodding with mild approval but also scanning the
crowd cautiously, was the boarlike House speaker, Dennis Hastert. Hastert
had kicked off this presser with similarly inspired oratory -- the highlight
of which, according to my notes, was this line: "It's not acceptable to, uh,
break the rules or the law."
Now he was standing there next to Dreier, motionless and mute, with the
nervous, half-bored look of a man with a commuter train to catch. It was a
lonely picture: an exhausted fat man playing his last political card and an
effete Californian in a too-orange tie, standing alone behind a plywood
podium in a dank congressional closet, putting a brave face on The End. In
the wake of the Abramoff scandal, they were all that was left of the
once-vaunted Republican leadership. It was like a Star Trek script gone
hopelessly wrong, with Kirk and Spock beheaded in the first two minutes, and
no one left to man the bridge but Scotty and maybe that blond nurse of
McCoy's, the one in the blue minidress.
The Dreier-Hastert press conference felt in every way like the very last act
in the desperate black comedy known as the Tom DeLay era of Republican rule
in Washington. What will follow is a new play, a gruesome tragedy in all
likelihood, whose main characters will be Abramoff, an enraged public and a
succession of grandstanding criminal prosecutors. But lonely and desperate
as it was, this last event had all the wit and spirit of an inspired farce
-- the chutzpah, the arrogance, the spit-in-your-eye rhetoric, the maddening
cloud of impunity hanging over it all.
Just consider: At this critical moment in the party's history, when survival
required some kind of dramatic public gesture toward self-policing, the GOP
needed an innocent, someone with clean hands, to lead the "anti-corruption"
drive. The Democrats, who a day later would announce their own reform bill,
would do just that -- elevating relative political virgins Rep. Louise
Slaughter and Sen. Barack Obama to starring roles in their own "Clean House"
But the Republicans who ran this town like a dictatorship for most of the
past five years apparently looked around and could not find a single
plausible virgin for the part of their Mr. Clean.
Of the two leading candidates for the recently vacated House majority leader
seat, one (acting leader Roy Blunt) had attempted to slip tobacco-friendly
language into a Homeland Security authorization bill while having an
extramarital affair with a Phillip Morris lobbyist, while the other (John
Boehner) had once been caught handing out checks from tobacco interests to
members of Congress on the floor of the House.
Elsewhere, the Commerce committee chairman (Joe Barton) had inserted a
provision into an energy bill on behalf of a company that had paid $56,000
to a PAC to "get a seat at the table," and the names of the House deputy
whip (Eric Cantor), the House conference secretary (John Doolittle) and the
House appropriations chair (Jerry Lewis) were all floating around in various
sordid Abramoff tales involving golf junkets, Indian tribes and floating
casinos. The only Republican names not burning putrid holes in the front
pages of The Washington Post were the ones who at that very minute were busy
forming alliances and gearing up for a factional challenge to the
DeLay/Hastert/Bush-backed congressional leadership.
So in the end, to whom did the Republicans turn to be their white knight?
David Dreier, a man whose very first act in last year's Congress was to
write a Rules package that not only sought to rewrite the congressional
rules to allow the majority leader to continue service while under
indictment for a felony but also castrated the Ethics committee, changing
its structure in such a way that the Republicans could unilaterally quash
any further investigations of DeLay.
As chair of the Rules committee -- a murky body whose chairman has the power
to rewrite bills entirely before they are voted on -- Dreier moreover was
presumably the gatekeeper to much of the midnight shenanigans involving
earmarks and last-minute insertions of paid-for corporate goodies in big
pieces of legislation. Perhaps more than any other Republican, Dreier was a
symbol of the institutional corruption that allowed DeLay to almost
single-handedly manipulate Congress like a marionette for the Abramoffs of
the world. As one Democratic staffer said to me, "Putting Dreier in charge
of this is the biggest fucking joke you can possibly imagine."
Which made it all the more beautiful that when Dreier finally did ascend to
the podium, he came through with a brazen performance worthy of the best and
most confident days of the in-your-face DeLay regime. Grinning and fingering
his tangerine-colored tie (Dreier's inappropriately cheery Crayola tie
collection is a source of many dark jokes in Congress), Dreier explained
that when he'd called to wish Hastert a Happy New Year, the latter had
surprised him by asking him to take up lobby reform.
"And I thought," said Dreier, raising his hands to his chest, "'My gosh, is
this something more that I want to take on?'"
The "my gosh" inspired a muffled groan on my side of the room. Dreier smiled
and went on. "Yesterday, we marked the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King .
Reporters shot each other looks, all thinking the same thing: In this dire
situation, with Jack Abramoff babbling strings of names and account numbers
into an inquisitor's mike somewhere, would even a Tom DeLay Republican have
the balls to defile the corpse of Martin Luther King? The answer came
quickly, as Dreier quoted MLK to explain his attitude toward lobbyist
"I thought about one of his letters," he began. "'We should always be
careful about the tranquilizing drug of gradualism . . .'"
He smiled and surveyed the crowd, a hand still pressed to his breast.
Gradualism! It was a breathtaking show of balls -- a cynical display of
Mozartian virtuosity. Well, I thought, they're not dead yet. Or if they are,
what a way to go out!
* * *
Washington is a different place since January 3rd, a date that will go down
in infamy for this Republican regime. It was on that quiet day at the tail
end of the New Year hangover that the superlobbyist Abramoff announced his
intention to cop a plea -- an announcement that sent half of Washington in
search of good criminal representation.
Since that day, the Republicans in this town can often be seen staggering
down the halls of Congress, faces caked with debris and still deaf from the
impact of the Abramoff nuclear shit-bomb. Complicating matters is the fact
that the party has been forced to return to congressional business very
early in the winter recess to conduct elections for the House majority
leadership seat, which of course was recently vacated by Tom DeLay, himself
now headed for Texas to meet with the Hand of Fate.
There are three candidates for the leadership spot, who represent three
distinct strategies for dealing with the current crisis. The front-runner is
the acting leader, Blunt, who pointedly represents a strategy of doing
nothing at all. Blunt's biography is brimming with the kind of pornographic
devotion to money and corporate privilege that was a prerequisite for
political success in the good old days.
The Missouri congressman three years ago ditched his wife for a Phillip
Morris lobbyist named Abigail Perlman, whom he subsequently married; it's
been a profitable marriage, as Phillip Morris (now called Altria) has
donated more than $270,000 to committees tied to Blunt. Meanwhile, Blunt's
son Andrew is also an Altria lobbyist, and Blunt's other son, Matt, is
governor of his home state -- elected, conveniently, with the help of funds
from Altria. One gets the impression that the whole family spends its
holidays sitting in a circle, two-fistedly smoking Chesterfields while
handing each other wads of hundred-dollar bills.
Blunt's hands are also wet with the blood of the Abramoff scandal; as party
whip he co-signed (with DeLay) letters on behalf of a Louisiana Indian tribe
represented by Abramoff. Meanwhile, Abramoff is one of the first names on
the list of 2004 individual donors to Blunt's PAC, the sickeningly named
Rely on Your Beliefs fund.
Blunt appears to be the choice for majority leader in the event that the
party concludes that it still has a chance to get away with absolutely
everything, Abramoff trial be damned. But the next choice, Ohio long-timer
John Boehner, appears to be the cosmetic fallback position should the party
conclude that business can go back to operating as usual only after a few
carefully chosen heads are rendered unto Caesar -- whomever Abramoff decides
to give up.
On the surface, Boehner would seem a brilliant choice; he has game-show-host
looks, no shame and has never been indicted for anything. Although his own
sugary-titled PAC, the Freedom Project, has accepted some $31,000 from
Abramoff clients over the years, there are as yet no allegations that
Boehner has ever traded favors with the Evil One.
Still, folks around the House describe the long-serving Boehner -- who was
kicked out of party leadership once before (he was House Republican
Conference chairman in the 104th and 105th congresses but lost his seat when
his mentor, Newt Gingrich, was ousted) -- as having an off-putting,
semi-delusional, almost Kerry-esque sense of entitlement about the
Boehner's zeal for the leadership post is such that he issued a
thirty-seven-page Power-Point presentation to campaign for the job. The
document is a towering monument to political cliche, wrapping quotations of
Reagan, Churchill and John Paul II around paeans to the virtues of change,
light, hope, "big goals" and hitting the accelerator while others stay stuck
But for all his sterling qualifications, Boehner can hardly be described as
someone who lived outside the K Street/DeLay universe. If anyone in this
race can claim that distinction, it could only be the third and last
candidate, John Shadegg of Arizona, another Gingrich protege, who kicked off
his campaign by bragging on national television that his "level of taint"
was, if not entirely absent, at least "decidedly lower" than that of his
opponents. A late entry into the race, Shadegg menacingly represents the
prayer-and-belt-tightening future of the Republican Party, should Abramoff
sink the Rove-DeLay-Hastert-Norquist rampaging corporate-money machine that
took over the party in 1999.
While those Republicans spent the years since treating Washington like their
own personal Girls Gone Wild video -- drinking champagne out of bra cups at
lavish corporate fund-raisers and turning Congress into one big turnstile,
passing any and every law that anyone with a dollar felt like paying for --
there were other Republicans with actual ideological convictions who just
went along with it all in a co-dependent fashion.
These were the true believers, the deficit hawks and the Bible thumpers, who
bit their lips and voted the party line even as the government exploded in
size in the first five years of the Bush presidency. They had blind faith,
but now they're organizing to take the party back. This process began last
fall with the ascendancy of the uber-conservative Republican Study Group,
which mounted a brazen factional challenge to new acting leader Blunt over
emergency spending for Hurricane Katrina. It continues now with the
leadership candidacy of the humorless Shadegg, whose conservative bona fides
include a father who managed the 1952 Senate campaign of Barry Goldwater.
Shadegg's run coincides unpleasantly -- almost audibly, like fingernails on
a blackboard -- with the unsolicited reappearance on the public scene of his
mentor Gingrich. The latter keeps showing up in newspapers with the
description "presidential hopeful" violently attached to his person, shaking
his head in anguish over this whole Abramoff business and acting as though
someone asked for his advice.
That Gingrich has somehow managed to position himself as a pre-Abramoff
Republican champion shows how dangerous a moment this is not only for the
Republicans but for the country in general. All but forgotten now is the
fact that Gingrich more or less invented the K Street Project -- a
Republican scheme to freeze out Democratic lobbyists -- and that Abramoff
was a bridge between K Street and Gingrich as long as a dozen years ago.
The raging shit-fire that is the Abramoff scandal exposed Washington as a
veritable inferno of crushed values and boundless activist cynicism. It
eloquently revealed an America whose system of government had finally
mutated to fit the vapidity and anything-for-money morality of the culture
as a whole. In a country where people eat bugs for money on national
television, how surprising is a congressman who sells his vote, or a
Congress run like a Wal-Mart?
Barring a sudden and unforeseen flowering of affirmative values in the
depraved whorehouse that is our nation's capital, money is still going to
remain a hell of an effective substitute for political principle in this
town, meaning all manner of frauds -- from Gingrich on down -- will be
moving in not to do anything different but to take over the old dealer's
territory. The Democrats, whose innocence in the crimes of the last five
years to date corresponds exactly to their lack of opportunities for
corruption, may now get a chance at the helm. But it won't take much
exposure to cheap stunts like a beaming Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi signing
a "Declaration of Honest Leadership" before people begin to remember how
much the other guys can suck, too.
Bush haters are celebrating this week as old villains descend to the death
chamber, but they should be careful what they wish for. Trusting Washington
to fix itself is a whole new kind of torture.
Posted Jan 27, 2006 1:15 PM
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