Page 10


FEATURE Follow the Leader The Right and its Big Night for Tom DeLay BY LOU DUBOSE II here was something weirdly dissonant about the American Conservative Union’s May 12 salute to Tom DeLay. Maybe it was the video tribute played out on 20-by-20-foot screens on each side of the head table and on a dozen smaller mon, itors spaced throughout the room. Jesse Helms staring into the camera and urging Tom DeLay to hang in there. Dennis Hastert squinting his way through his 30-second video salute. Republican Whip Then again, maybe it was the crowd that didn’t seem quite right. “There’s nobody famous here,” said a realtor from Knoxville, Tennessee. “I watch politics on TV, and I haven’t seen a single person that’s important here.” She was attending a convention at the same hotel and slipped into the dinner, where she took a seat at a half-empty table. She pointed to her dinner companions. “That guy is a real sweet World War II veteran. This guy is a retired high school principal. The man next to him is a manager of a casino in Atlantic City. Now Roy Blunt praising DeLay in a pre-recorded video clip, while sitting at the head table waiting to deliver a longer, live speech to the 900 guests. \(Did the majority whip want to redouble his praise of DeLay? Or did someone warn him that the absence of both the whip and the speaker might be read as a Maybe it was the awkward musical interludes by a bluegrass band playing “Waltz Across Texas,” “Wabash Cannon Ball,” and “If I Had a Hammer” between the video-encomiums from Hastert, Helms, Blunt, Congressman Tom Reynolds, and radio evangelical James Dobson. Dobson warned that liberals know that the way “you win the battle is to shoot the brave soldiers first. And Tom DeLay is a brave soldier.” It was the defining metaphor of the evening: the brave soldier under attack by Democrats, The Washington Post, and the liberal media in general. 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 27, 2005 what’s he doing here?” Then she looked at the head table: “Is there anybody important out here?” If Dr. Dob son pro vided the defining metaphor, the realtor from Tennessee instinctive ly got the night’s news hook. There’s something odd about a tribute to a political leader with no polit ical leaders in the crowd. She crashed a party expecting to see Senator Bill Frist, and all she got was salmon, filet mignon, a lot of red wineand the plas tic hammer from atop the red, white, and blue marble cake. In fact, if you weren’t a polit ical junkie, you needed a pro gram to find the political celebrities in the crowd. \(Maybe the oddest sighting was GOPUSA’S James Guckert and his doppel ganger Jeff Gannon sharing the of the hosts and guests were conservative movement lead ers and the drones doing the hard work at the Republican Party’s corporate-funded ancillary offices in Washingtonthe true believers DeLay correctly described as “the heroes of the conservative movement:’ Five of the eight people at the table where I sat were youthful guests of Rightmarchthe web-based group “leading the virtual march from the right” \( I asked a slightly drunk young woman in an elegant black dress \(that was probably far too revealing for the Christians KFIENEcic