Tuesday, April 04, 2006
Tom DeLay Resigns
Democrats execrate Tom DeLay, for the pungent reason that he beat them and beat them and beat them again. Who likes losing?
Republicans, though, will remember Tom DeLay as the man who marshaled the votes for the great Republican legislative triumphs of the 1990s: welfare reform, budget-balancing, applying the laws of the land to members of Congress, NATO expansion. Newt Gingrich may have conceived the plans; it was DeLay who often realized them. And just as even fierce Democrats now credit Ronald Reagan for demonstrating that the presidency could work after the drift and weakness of the Carter years, so DeLay will in time get his due as the man who got action out of the House of Representatives in a way that nobody else has done since the reforms of 1974.
Over time, the House Republicans lost some of their energy and much of their zeal. Over time, they succumbed to some of the high-handed and self-serving practices of the old Democratic majority they defeated. Such are the cycles of politics, and Tom DeLay no doubt deserves much of the blame.
He erred especially in his now notorious “K Street Project.” He believed that by pressing lobbying firms to hire more Republicans he could somehow annex the lobbying industry as a source of strength for the conservative project. K Street would be recruited to reinforce the GOP. Instead, and all too often, it was the lobbying industry that ended up annexing the Republican party. Today’s immigration debate represents the culmination of this distasteful evolution, with Republican senators – elected by ordinary Americans because they had lost patience with an out-of-touch Democratic party – standing up to give speeches complaining that Americans’ wage demands have become utterly exorbitant and that millions of guestworkers must be imported to do the jobs Americans won’t do at the wages it pleases the senators’ donors to pay.
And yet even as conservatives wonder over what our party is becoming – we can still remember with pride what it was.
One of the graces of American political life is that the great partisan figures come in time to belong to the whole nation. Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan each evoke admiration across the aisle; their lives have taken on a meaning bigger and grander than the partisan divides of the 1930s and 1980s.
So too it will be with the Republican Congress elected in 1994. In years to come, whenever a Congress seems to have lost touch with the voters, whenever legislation seems to gnarl itself in complacency and corruption, men and women now unborn will remember the spirit of 1994. Whenever Congress mires itself in futility and deadlock, whenever Americans wonder whether this strange institution can ever be mobilized to act in the public interest – they will remember the 104th Congress.
As Tom DeLay leaves Congress, the television screens and newspapers flash that haunting grinning mug shot. That is part of the record of course. But it is not all the record. And when your grandchildren and mine visit Capitol Hill decades hence, they will see Tom DeLay’s face not in pixels but in sculpture, arranged with his sometime partner, sometime rival Newt Gingrich in the arcade alongside James Madison, John Calhoun, Thaddeus Stevens, Joe Cannon, Sam Rayburn and the other bygone powers of the House of Representatives. These leaders also had their faults. They too had their failures. But the United States is a just and generous nation, and those who write its history will tell the story in full: not only the tawdry chapters, but also the magnificent.
04/04 11:19 PM