In politics, especially in the South, it's not uncommon to be tagged with a nickname. In my first run for office here in Texas, I became widely known as "Whole Hog" Hightower after I gave a particularly fiery speech at the state AFL-CIO convention. Noting that our state government had long served the corporate elites, leaving only pork rinds and pigs' feet for the working families, I declared that it was time for regular folks to go into the smokehouse of Texas politics and, at long last, claim the whole hog for themselves. In some circles, I'm still greeted with fond shouts of "Whole Hog!" whenever they see me.
So if nicknames can characterize you, what are we to make of Mr. Tom DeLay, the Republican leader of the U.S. Congress? Despite his high position, the great majority of Americans don't know DeLay's name and wouldn't recognize him if he walked up and kicked them in their collective butt (which he's actually doing from the backrooms of Washington). But those who do know Tom have dubbed him not with one nickname but several, all of which attest to his relentless and ruthless pursuit of their extremist causes: The Hammer, Rottweiler, The Bug Man, Dereg, The Messiah and (Tom's personal favorite) The Exterminator.
If these nicknames aren't chilling enough for you, here's how one of his own congressional constituents describes him: "Tom DeLay is a shiver looking for a spine to run up."
By whatever name you choose, it's time for all of us to know just who this guy is, for DeLay has quietly become by far the most powerful man in Congress, with his own political muscle that rivals the White House itself. Not that DeLay Inc. and BushCo are at odds
For us, the importance of DeLay is that (1) he is even more rabidly right-wing than the Bushites; (2) he controls what the House does and doesn't do; (3) he has cobbled together a shadowy network of money, lobbying, and grass-roots troops that exerts unrelenting right-wing pressure on the entire Republican agenda (and therefore on the country's agenda); and (4) he intends to be there long after W. is gone. On the other hand, the more America knows of DeLay, the better off we are, for he is not merely an ideological extremist -- he's nutty, frightening, and butt-ugly to boot.
DeLay did not begin as a firebrand nutball. A pest exterminator in suburban Houston, he read a how-to-campaign book and, in 1978, got himself elected to the Texas Legislature. There, he amounted to little more than furniture: He partied around, achieved next to nothing, held no leadership posts, and, as one of his colleagues recalls, was widely considered "an absolute zero."
Unfortunately, being a zero doesn't disqualify you for higher office in Texas, so Tom ran for and won a congressional seat in 1984. At first, he wasn't much stuff there either, specializing mainly in downing eight to twelve martinis a night on the reception circuit. Then, in 1985, he says he found God after watching a video by the Christian right's Focus on the Family guru, James Dobson. From that day forward, the exterminator became the born-again pest, loudly pushing his evangelical extremism while latching onto bigger and bigger pots of corporate money and plotting his rise to the top of the congressional heap.
DeLay chose the far-rightward path to power, first asserting himself in 1989 as a campaign manager for a guy who ran against Newt Gingrich for the position of Republican whip. For Tom (gulp), Newt simply was not far enough to the right. He lost that fight but continued courting the far right both inside and outside of Congress, doing favors and becoming their point man. In 1994, Newt rose to House Speaker, and Tom called in his chits and was elected whip. This made DeLay responsible for lining up the votes to deliver legislative victories. Lobbyists key on the whip, and Tom keyed right back on them, quickly earning his nickname, The Hammer, for his use of brute political force. He literally carried a book around with every lobbyist's name and the amounts of money they had donated to the GOP and the Democrats.
As the price for moving their bills, he demanded that lobbyists give more to Republicans and less to Democrats, even demanding that they get rid of Democratic lobbyists and hire Republicans. "If you want to play in our revolution," he told them bluntly, "you have to live by our rules."
Rule No. 1 was money. Delay has become the banker for hard-right Republican partisanship.
Declaring that "money is the lifeblood of politics," he is both the most diehard opponent of any attempt to reform America's corrupt campaign-funding laws and the Congress's most indefatigable raiser of those corrupt funds. DeLay Inc. was born as he created a far-flung network of money pockets that include assorted state and federal PACs, soft-money funnels, direct-mail operations, partisan right-wing religious outfits, foundations, and others. Typically, they bear aggressive-sounding acronyms like ARM, ROMP, and STOMP.
All of these pockets are linked to K Street, the corporate-lobbying corridor in Washington, where DeLay not only wields The Hammer, but has also ensconced more than a dozen of his former staffers, known as alumni of "The DeLay School." The Hill newspaper recently ranked the top lobbyists in D.C.; four are former DeLay staffers.
In '98, when Gingrich imploded, DeLay realized that he was too hot to win the speakership himself, so he put forward his chief deputy from the whip's office
Tom is eaten up with Christian zealotry, recognizing no separation between his rigid fundamentalist extremism and his powerful public position. He openly declares himself sent by God to "stand up for a biblical worldview in everything I do and everywhere I am." For him, politics is not a battle over policy, but a "battle of souls." He says that he seeks a "God-centered" nation that, among other things, would discriminate against homosexuals, curb contraception, outlaw abortion, end the separation of church and state, and post the Ten Commandments in every school (even though Tom has violated more than a few of the Ten himself).
He sees the world through apocalyptic eyes, declaring, for example, that youth violence is caused by day care, the teaching of evolution, and "working mothers taking birth-control pills." The horror of the shootings at Columbine are easily explained, he says, "because our school systems teach our children that they are nothing but glorified apes who have evolutionized out of some primordial mud."
He asserts that "our nation will only be healed through a rebirth of religious conviction and moral certitude." When it was suggested that his ambition for a Christian state was somewhere between discomforting and terrifying to most Americans, DeLay gave a messianic sigh and said: "People hate the messenger. That's why they killed Christ." Even more messianically, he has railed against those who challenge his political applications of Christian absolutism: "If I wasn't walking with the Lord, I would have been destroyed."
Among his overt pushes for Christian statism is his backing of bills to allow religious groups to tap their tax-exempt bank accounts for campaign contributions and lobbying funds, and to endorse political candidates. He's also the leading political force in the Christian Zionist movement
Another company that learned how to play Tom's game is Westar. Last year, this Kansas-based energy company wanted to have a special break worth $3 billion slipped into an energy bill. Corporate officials met with DeLay. Later, in an internal corporate e-mail, a Westar executive was blunt: "We have a plan for participation to get a seat at the tableŠ. The total package will be $31,500 in hard money, and $25,000 in soft money." The soft money was to go to one of DeLay's funds, with the e-mail candidly explaining: "His agreement is necessary before the house conferees can push the language we have in place in the house bill."
The money was delivered, and a DeLay lieutenant dutifully put Westar's $3 billion break into the law. That would have been the end of it, except that Westar came under federal investigation for fraud, the e-mail became public, and the language was quietly stripped from the bill.
Confronted with the Westar e-mail, DeLay later shook his head and said: "It never ceases to amaze me that people are so cynical [that] they want to tie money to issues, money to bills, money to amendments."
How loopy is DeLay? He's another chickenhawk who, like George W., dodged going to Vietnam. He later claimed that, no, he didn't evade the war; rather, he'd been a victim of racial discrimination. So many African-Americans and Mexican-Americans in Texas had volunteered for Vietnam, he said, that there literally was no room for patriotic white Republicans like him to get in.
Tom takes a nasty view of humankind. "We are, by nature, greedy and lazy and sinful," he says, and so he's doing us all a favor by taking upon his shoulders the heavy burden of making us better than we really are
He raised out-of-state money for GOP legislative candidates in Texas (including that $25,000 from Westar) with help from the corrupt Texas Association of Business. Even though this flood of outside money was illegal, enough Republicans were elected to take control of the legislature.
He now saw that he could ram his map into law. But to their everlasting credit, some feisty Democrats in the legislature refused to be rolled over: They voted with their feet by strategically sprinting out of state
The one good thing to come from his Texas ploy (which, by the way, he and his brown-shirted cohort, Karl Rove, also pulled off in Colorado, with both of them now searching for more states to hammer) is that it has finally outed Tom, giving Americans their first real glimpse of him
The EPA: "The Gestapo of government, purely and simply." Global warming: "It is the arrogance of man to think that man can change the climate of the world. Only nature can change the climate. A volcano, for instance."