THERE MAY BE a hundred good reasons to vote your congressman out of office in the case of the federal deficit there may be 400 billion reasons but trouble balancing a checkbook surely is the most trivial complaint. As much as we enjoy the spectacle of redfaced Congress members explaining away the hundreds of checks they ricocheted through the House bank, an odor of self-righteous hypocrisy wafts from the controversy, which predictably has been styled “Rubbergate.” Congress has surrounded itself with too many tax-paid perquisites, but no public money was at risk with the House bank. Comparisons with Watergate trivialize that abuse of governmental authority under President Richard Nixon. The Texas Observer has a long and honorable tradition of standing up for those who are unfairly set upon. TO also has a history of flying close to the ground financially. So we reluctantly speak in defense of the hapless congresspersons who had trouble keeping their checkbooks balanced, their $129,500 annual salaries notwithstanding. Republicans may have been right to push, for the release of the list of House “deadbeats” but for the wrong reasons. The first leak curiously omitted Republican names on the list and the GOP has prosecuted the ensuing scandal with election-year rhetoric. When Newt Gingrich, the House Minority Whip, found he had bounced a few checks, he blamed the Democratic leadership, in essence adopting a “the devil made me do it” defense. President Bush, who already was gearing up an anti-Congress campaign, poked fun at the scandal, and his Administration was ready to make hay; his Justice Department was ready to clap the offenders in irons before it was discovered that three members of Bush’s Cabinet had bounced checks when they were Republican members of Congress. Bush wasn’t even sure he had not bounced checks when he represented Houston in the early 1970s. The list of 15 Texas congressmen who so far have admitted they bounced checks includes Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, a far-right pinchpenny when it comes to domestic spending, who said he wrote at least nine bad checks worth a total of $17,000 and overdrew his account by $5,300. When found out, he blasted the “gross mismanagement” of the House bank under Democratic control. “I’m better with other people’s money than with mine, I guess,” DeLay told the Houston Post. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who regularly pokes fun at government spending items in a weekly column he submits to newspapers in his district, made “a sanctimonious call to publish the names of all the check-kiters in the House bank scandal,” the San Antonio Express-News said, considering that a week later Smith was found to be the biggest spender among Texas congressmen in constituent mail. DeLay was runner-up with $216,764 worth of mail on his tab, as reported by the National Taxpayers Union. The news media, which has distinguished itself more with coverage of the sexual exploits of Democratic presidential candidates than with analysis of economic policy under the ReaganBush regime, has cranked up the presses on the hot check scandal. El Paso newspapers had a full-court press on Rep. Ronald Coleman even before it was discovered he had bounced 673 checks through the House bank, but they did not waste the chance to heap abuse on the veteran Democratic lawmaker. The Herald-Post called on Coleman to resign and the Times said his re-election chances were seriously damaged by. the revelation that he bounced more than $275,000 worth of checks in his bank account. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Lufkin, for whom 81 hot checks should be a relatively minor blip in a colorful career, tried the humor approach when, informed of his prominence on the list of the 24 worst “abusers,” he turned himself in to reporters. “Piety must be a terrible burden to try to bear through one of these things,” he said, but the Beaumont Enterprise, which covers much of his East Texas district, editorialized that Wilson’s attitude and his lack of remorse insulted the voters. Well, let he or she who does not have overdraft protection and has never bounced a check cast the first stone. As for this writer, the only check I have had returned so far was when the savings and loan where I had my account was closed as a result of the Reagan-era collapse of the Texas real estate and banking industries. J.C. TEXAS server APRIL 10, 1992 VOLUME 84, No. 7 FEATURES Bought & Paid For By Thomas Ferguson 1 Two Decades Censored By James Cullen 10 House Check-Mate By Deborah Lutterbeck 1 1 DEPARTMENTS Editorial 3 Media Observer From Rags to Respectability By Ronan G. Lynch 12 Books & the Culture Alone in the World Looking Book reviews by Ronnie Dugger Losing the Future Book review by Geoff Rips 15 Waters of Babylon Book reviews by Pat LittleDog 17 Rosencrantz of Dealey Plaza Moview review by Steven G. Kellman 19 Revolution from the Front Porch Book review by Elton Miller 21 Afterword A Vote of Conscience By Char Miller 23 Political Intelligence 24 Cover illustration by Matt Wuerker EDITORIAL Check Kite Flight Corrections Because of a typesetting error,,an incorrect date for the tornado that devastated Lubbock in 1970. Faulty editing also led to a clumsy final paragraph in the Environmental Observer who helped Hurwitz in the Pacific Lumber acquisition, now works part-time for Maxxam for $250,000 a year. When asked by Schnayerson if there was any reason to save the old-growth virgin redwoods, Connally replied, “They’re there, but nobody gets to see them, so what the hell good are they?” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3
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