Thursday, September 29, 2005


Revolution "DeLayed" -- and Done?

My colleague, John Podhoretz, is exactly right. Regardless of the legal outcome of Tom DeLay's troubles (though I do not share John's confidence on the case's underlying weakness), this puts the GOP on the defense for quite some time.

What may be even sadder from a broader political perspective is that, well, irony can be a bitch.

For some odd reason, on Tuesday, the Republican National Committee decided to
recognize the 11th anniversary of Republican candidates signing the Contract With America (11th!!!?!? Who the heck makes a big deal about an 11th anniversary!!?!):

Happy Anniversary: Contract With America Delivering A More Efficient, Effective Government reads the press release: "Republicans have maintained our majority because we’ve remained true to the Contract’s goals."

In fairness, as the press release notes, a number of Contract items are now the law of the land -- and have produced some tangible results. Alas, two weeks before that press release, Tom DeLay made the unfortunate
pronouncement that, "After 11 years of Republican majority we've pared (the budget) down pretty good."

Compare that statement with the aims of the
Contract's first item: "The Fiscal Responsibility Act":

A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out- of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.
So much for that.

But DeLay's quote was merely in variance with one specific item of the Contract. His indictment is a shiv to the Contract's heart and spirit -- the culture of reform that outlined in the preamble:

This year's election offers the chance, after four decades of one-party control, to bring to the House a new majority that will transform the way Congress works. That historic change would be the end of government that is too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public's money. It can be the beginning of a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.

Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right." To restore accountability to Congress. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.

On the first day of the 104th Congress, the new Republican majority will immediately pass the following major reforms, aimed at restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government:
What followed was a list of action items that incoming Congress would pass to produce greater transparency and accountability to an institution that had produced, as Podhoretz notes, an indicted Ways and Means Chairman named Dan Rostenkowski.

The Contract gave the new GOP majority a sense of unity, purpose and focus that allowed it to hit the ground running in January 1995. It signaled a new era of reform and transformation.

Sure, on a basic level it began to stumble with the government shutdown. But, the GOP majority was returned in '96 and on to this day, surving previos changes in the roster of the top Republicans.

However, the DeLay indictment brings things full circle in a way that Newt Gingrich's stepping down, Dennis Hastert's ascension and Dick Armey and J.C. Watts' retirements did not. The revolutionary spirit aimed at overthrowing institutional arrogance is dead. Now the majority runs to defend an indicted colleague and toss around rhetoric of prosecutorial abuse.

For the record, I am not dismissing the fact that Ronnie Earle may indeed have bitten off more than he can chew or that he may be doing this for partisan reasons. In certain ways, I hope that might be the case. But, there is no guarantee. The fact that this indictment came down on the last day of the grand jury empanelment could mean that Earle got someone to rat out DeLay. In short, no one knows.

All we do know is that the sitting Majority Leader of the House of Representatives was indicted. That's a headline that can't be expunged. It's a reality that 180 degrees away from the hopes and promises offered by Republican candidates eleven years ago.

It's the reality that buries what was once called the Republican Revolution.

UPDATE: The Washington Post raises the legitimate skeptical questions on the appropriateness of a criminal indictment. Meanwhile, Kevin Drum explores the question of who -- if anyone -- is the person Earle "flipped" on DeLay.

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