In the underrated film “Cop Land,” Sheriff Freddy Heflin is reluctant to turn his benefactor, crooked cop Ray Donlan, over to Moe Tilden of Internal Affairs. Heflin eventually has a crisis of conscience and changes his mind, but by that point the case against Donlan has disintegrated. “I gave you a chance to be a cop,” Tilden admonishes, “and you blew it!” Were Congressional Republicans to come to their senses about Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), I would offer a strikingly similar objurgation.
DeLay, the boisterous House Majority Leader nicknamed “The Hammer,” has been a magnet for controversy for quite some time now.
Known for his extreme partisanship and hawkish views, he has already been reprimanded several times by House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for offenses ranging from the attempted bribery of a colleague to accepting illegal donations on behalf of an energy company. He also has prominent ties to Texans for a Republican Majority, a group whose members have been indicted on charges of money laundering and accepting illegal campaign contributions.
All he seems to be missing is a PayPal account for the convenient collection of bribes and a tattoo that reads “Property of the Oil Industry.”
While this behavior, in and of itself, is appalling, it is hardly extraordinary. Politics is full of bad seeds (many of whom have names like Clinton and Bush and Kennedy) and far too much weight is given to non-issues these days.
However, when applied to the broader spectrum of American politics, the tactics employed by DeLay and his cohorts point to a disturbing trend – the erosion of standards. DeLay is the embodiment of the current GOP ethos that says “it’s only bad when a Democrat does it.”
This kind of slimy approach is unacceptable for any party, let alone one that prides itself on values.
Despite a lack of condemnation from those on the right, one would have to be blind to miss DeLay’s overt duplicity. For example, he – a non-veteran who vociferously supports military intervention abroad – has seen fit to question the patriotism of those who served their country in uniform.
Say what you want about John Kerry’s politics, but when his country needed him in Vietnam, he at least showed up. By many accounts, at roughly the same point in time – a time in which we were fighting a war and needed all the help we could get – DeLay was partying like a frat boy (his nickname, prior to becoming an Evangelical, was Hot Tub Tommy).
DeLay and others in the Republican leadership have also been sharply critical of recently departed Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), citing his objection to Bush administration goals and initiatives as the telltale mark of “an obstructionist.”
Yet it was conservative Republicans who attempted to block intelligence reform, a bipartisan measure with White House support. Similarly, when President Bush attempted to extend his tax cuts to the lower class, DeLay blocked the move, stating, “it ain’t gonna happen.” If these shenanigans don’t make DeLay and his associates “obstructionists,” I don’t know what would.
Another salvo fired by DeLay and Co. against Democrats was that they would put the interests of the United Nations before the interests of the United States. This is an apt point … until one realizes that DeLay has essentially replaced “Israel” with “the United Nations” in the equation. A staunch Christian Zionist, DeLay has shown a willingness to put Israel’s best interests at the forefront of all his important decision making.
Given that Israel is an independent nation with its own interests and priorities this is a questionable move at best (and I say this as an admirer and defender of Israel in my own right, but also as someone who favors national sovereignty and is unwilling to pretend the Lavon Affair never happened).
DeLay’s pernicious hypocrisy has even spread upward to the Senate, where conservative Republicans bitched and moaned ad nauseum about Democrats who held up judicial or cabinet appointments of qualified candidates for political reasons.
Yet many of the same complainers attempted to stall the confirmation of Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) as chair of the Judiciary Committee. Specter is not only qualified (he worked with the Warren Commission), but he also earned his conservative stripes during his advocacy of Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination. The attempt by pro-life firebrands to block his selection after chewing Democrats out for similar reasons reeks of two-faced cowardice.
What is perhaps most puzzling about the ongoing DeLay saga is why the majority of Republicans have continued to bend over backwards for him.
Were I a card-carrying member of the GOP, I would be embarrassed to have DeLay as my majority leader. His effectiveness at maintaining party discipline and whipping votes notwithstanding, his unethical behavior and loud-mouthed grandstanding (he once infamously declared, “I am the federal government!”) is downright embarrassing at times.
However, rather than reprimand him, the Republican leadership has covered for him time and time again. Whether they are busy bringing charges against DeLay’s accuser or attempting to alter ethics rules that would enable him to stay in power, Republican higher-ups have shown repeatedly that they lack the intestinal fortitude to do the right thing when it isn’t politically expedient.
Instead, they prefer to allege that the charges against DeLay are “politically motivated.” That’s funny – I don’t recall political motivation being a concern when Republicans were bringing ethics charges against Democrats Jim Wright and Barney Frank.
The argument loses even more muster when one considers that Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, is suing DeLay.
Sadly, this fiasco-in-progress represents more than just DeLay’s failure to conduct himself properly; it is a failure on all fronts.
It is the failure of Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert to adequately reign him in and assert proper decorum. It is the failure of Bush to establish himself as the head of the party and not lose ground to DeLay and others on the far right.
It is also the moral failure of any conservative who decried improper conduct in the past and yet remains silent now.
Interestingly enough, this represents a major failure for Democrats as well. While DeLay is very much a demagogue, the strategy of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him and hoping it sticks is wholly inappropriate. This calls motives into question and makes DeLay look as if he is being martyred.
Furthermore, how can Democrats expect their ethical complaints to be taken seriously when they continue to count criminals such as Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) among their active ranks?
By the end of “Cop Land,” the sheriff attempts to produce a witness that will take Donlan and his entire crew down. When Donlan gets in his way, Hefflin shoots him.
Republican leaders needn’t go to such extremes in dealing with their majority leader, but the message to them is loud and clear: there should be no further delay in ousting DeLay.