The Hammer Gets The Hammer

The Fortnightly Rant for December 3, 2010, from The New Hampshire Gazette, Volume 255, No. 5, posted on Saturday, January 15, 2011.

Minutes after a Texas jury convicted him of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, former Republican Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay granted an audience for television news cameras. With the first words out of his mouth he tried to establish that not even the prospect of life behind bars could shake his faith. “I praise the Lord for what’s going on here, Number One,” he said. DeLay no doubt expects people to believe that it is his Lord in whom he puts his faith. Another interpretation seems more plausible, though, in which DeLay is still the dominant figure, as he once was in Congress.

There are those who would be impressed by anyone who praised the Lord for receiving a felony conviction. To each his own. We reserve the right to withhold forgiveness until the sinner has repented — or at least acknowledged that he’s guilty.

DeLay took the road more-traveled and set about building a temple to his own innocence, based upon the sandy foundation of his initial disingenuous remark: “Number Two,” he said, “I’m not going to blame anybody. This is an abuse of power. It’s a miscarriage of justice.”

It’s amusing to imagine George Orwell, humanity’s preeminent expert on the political perversion of the English language, standing in a pub somewhere, waving around a pint of Guinness and mocking The Hammer’s self-pitying non sequitur. But we doubt that Orwell would simply laugh this off. During his career as a lifelong anti-fascist, he was hardly non-violent — he shot at fascists in Spain, until one put a bullet through his throat.

DeLay then uttered a sentence that, like William Blake’s grain of sand, encompassed the whole world of Republican thought: “I still maintain that I am innocent, that the criminalization of politics undermines our very system.”

The last time this principle was so boldly stated was on April 6, 1977, when Richard Nixon told David Frost, “If the President does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Though it is neither mentioned in the Constitution nor sanctioned by anyone outside of the GOP, this principle has been invoked so frequently that it has generated an acronym all its own: IOKIYAR, or, “It’s OK If You’re a Republican.”

It is risky to make general predictions about situations as unusual as this. After all, it’s not often that high-ranking politicians actually get nailed for their felonious behavior, or at least not often enough. We are concerned, though, that during the commotion — that is to say, the barrage of obfuscatory nitpicking — that is sure to follow this event, the nature of DeLay’s offense could get lost. So let us summarize:

The Rap He Could Not Beat

It is illegal under Texas law for a corporation to donate money directly to a political candidate. DeLay, the founder of a Political Action Committee called Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), orchestrated a scheme whereby corporations gave $190,000 to TRMPAC, and TRMPAC then gave an equal amount of money to the Republican National Committee (RNC). The RNC subsequently wrote checks totaling $190,000 to a number of political candidates in Texas, whose names were on a list thoughtfully supplied by DeLay.

So DeLay illegally finagled corporate money to pack the Texas State House with Republicans and succeeded. That’s fairly straighforward. It may be illegal, unscrupulous, and felonious, but it’s straightforward. It is the “why” of DeLay’s scheme that elevates it into the exalted realm of the truly insidious.

The election in 2002 of Republicans who were helped by DeLay’s scheme gave the GOP control of the Texas legislature for the first time in 130 years. DeLay proceeded to blow off many of his Congressional duties in favor of riding herd on Texan lawmakers until they had redistricted the state’s Congressional districts. Along the way they naturally gerrymandered into extinction as many Democrats as possible.

After the next election, in 2004, the political balance of Texas’s Congressional delegation flipped. Where the 2002 election had put Democrats in the majority, 17 to 15, the 2004 election gave Republicans a majority of 21 to 11. Mission accomplished.

Thanks to the sheer novelty of his conviction, the ultimate purpose of DeLay’s conspiracy tends to be forgotten. By illegally altering the political balance of his state’s huge Congressional delegation, he set out to engineer a permanent structural advantage for the Republican party in the U.S. Congress. It worked.

A Rare Bit of Truth

As he neared the end of his TV appearance DeLay swerved into unfamiliar territory — the unvarnished truth — saying, “I am very disappointed in the outcome.”

The former Majority Leader quickly recovered his usual cocksure demeanor, though. After tossing off a hackneyed bit of truckstop philosophy — “You know, it is what it is” — he launched into the majestic plural, revealing his bitter contempt for the peers who had just condemned him: “We will carry on, and maybe we can get it before people that understand the law.”

Unindicted Co-Conspirators

If this case went before people who gave a damn about justice DeLay might be disappointed — that would result in more indictments. When a single individual is convicted of conspiracy, it stands to reason there are unindicted co-conspirators out there. Where are the indictments of the corporate bigwigs who directed the contributions to TRMPAC, for instance? And what about the Chairmen of the Republican National Committee during that period, Jim Gilmore and Marc Racicot?

Awaiting the Wrist Slap

Regardless of what some breathless TV newsreaders have said, and despite its being what he deserves, DeLay is not likely to spend much, if any, time behind bars. And of course he will appeal.

Still, we can dream, can’t we? He’s due for sentencing on December 20 — just in time for Christmas! Wonder if Neiman-Marcus has the gift register …

Undo the Gerrymanders

The Texas Congressional districts that DeLay helped gerrymander are still in effect. The state will, of course, re-district again based on the 2010 Census. If today’s Supreme Court leaned as partisanly Democratic as the 2000 Court did Republican, maybe it’d find some excuse to step in and put a thumb on the scale.

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