Takin' America Back

Listening to U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay claim exoneration after three slaps in six days from the House Standards of Official Conduct Committee brought to mind an expression I heard in Guatemala once. The President at the time, Jorge Serrano, had dissolved a pesky Congress and Supreme Court and declared himself absolute ruler. In the tumultuous days before the U.S. embassy forced Serrano to abdicate power, one astute local analyst observed that in his war-torn country, with its violence and rampant corruption, “it is not what’s legal, it’s what can be legalized.â€

Tom DeLay’s propensity for pushing the envelope of what is legal and certainly ethical is well documented in these pages and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the majority leader is not an aberration but the norm among the band of zealots who have seized the Grand Old Party, Texas, and the country. Partisan above all, they see themselves as revolutionaries, and thus superior to the law. “I am the federal government,†King Tom reportedly said once when challenged.

Instead of remorse, party officials lined up to attack complainant U.S. Rep. Chris Bell (D-Houston) and defend the leader that feeds them campaign cash and holds them together like a fist. “Once again, Democrats took a swing at Tom DeLay and missed…the Tom DeLay I know is the strongest, clearest, and most principled conservative leader in Washington,†said Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor (R-Virginia).

Bob Novak on CNN called it, without irony, “the criminalization of politics.â€(Here’s an idea: maybe any vile illegality—even outrageous stuff, like say, endangering CIA agents by outing them—could be justified, if we just called it “politics.â€) And nobody knows better how to replace ethical behavior with “politics†than Bush’s Brain, Karl Rove, who has used dirty tricks in elections since his days with the college Republicans. The triumph of these revolutionaries has led to an astoundingly amoral administration—insulated with a warm blanket of Christian conservatism.

In DeLay’s case, at last, the mainstream media has spoken, and almost with one voice: The Majority Leader is an embarrassment and should resign. All the major metropolitan dailies in Texas condemned him, as did newspapers across the nation. They got it in Tennessee. “ cannot be tolerated without corrupting the political process to the detriment of all Americans,†editorialized the Chattanooga Time Free Press. In Idaho, the Lewiston Morning Tribune wrote: “If House Republicans do not throw this cowboy off his high horse soon, it could be their party that is left in the dust of a future election.†In the City of Broad Shoulders, the Chicago Tribune scolded: “Far more than ideological zeal, voters want to see honesty and ethical behavior in public office. DeLay doesn’t fit the job description.â€

On the ground around the country, the opposition seems at last to have wised up. Record numbers of new voters have joined the rolls. Democratic politicians are relearning how to define their values and fight for them. Dissent against the official hooey is breaking out everywhere. There is even a professional country song, “Takin’ My Country Back,†that reclaims the patriotism ceded to the radicals. And this time, we are learning about the electoral fraud before it happens.

In a way, we should be grateful to the band of scoundrels leading the country. They are teaching Americans a lesson about freedom that people of good conscience in places like Guatemala have long known. The rights we claim—like the rule of law—must not be taken for granted. Indeed, people all over the world are fighting for what we willingly surrender. Now the only question is have enough registered voters wised up? —JB

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Published at 12:00 am CST