Sunday, April 09, 2006

Tom DeLay, Innocent Bystander

In this op-ed piece in today's Washington Post about his years as a top aide to Tom DeLay, John Feehery is clearly pulled in two directions. On the one hand, he wants to defend his old boss against the corruption charges that have brought him down. On the other, he wants to tell a few juicy stories about the hard-knuckle political maneuvering and power plays he witnessed during DeLay's glory years. So he tells the stories while laboring hard to spin them. Here's his concluding summary:

DeLay was an amazing legislator, probably the most talented this town has seen since Lyndon Baines Johnson. But like all great men, Tom DeLay had great talents and one great weakness. In his case, it was some staff members run amok. In the end, that weakness forced him to step down.

The problem is that Feehery's own account makes a mockery of his spin.

First of, all as for DeLay's genius as a legislator, Feehery makes it clear that, for DeLay, passing laws to benefit the American people came second to partisanship. Feerhery doesn't refer to a single legislative accomplishment by Delay. The only actual congressional activity he mentions is the Clinton impeachment saga, where DeLay rejected a Democratic censure proposal that represented a fair and honorable compromise, in favor of a purely partisan impeachment plan that was bound to fail. This led to Feehery's resignation:

My stomach wasn't in this effort. I couldn't match the energy of [Tony] Rudy and [Michael] Scanlon. They were everywhere, doing the briefing books, leaking to reporters, doing the legal research and whipping the members. They spread rumors that there was evidence that Clinton had raped a woman. I told Tom I was leaving, and he was very gracious. His attack dogs were already on the prowl. He didn't need me.

This is not exactly reminiscent of Lyndon Johnson. LBJ was certainly capable of strongarm tactics, but as Senate majority leader he worked hand in glove with leaders of the Republican opposition to pass Eisenhower's domestic and foreign policy agenda.

And as for DeLay's aides--people like Rudy, Scanlon, and chief of staff Ed Buckham--who supposedly ran amok and thereby brought down their too-indulgent boss, who exactly hired, trained, and guided them? Er, DeLay himself, of course. Feehery tries to make it sound as if they just somehow appeared on the scene, eliding responsibility in classic style by writing in the passive voice: "In the meantime, Buckham had become DeLay's chief of staff . . . Scanlon was DeLay's new press secretary, having been hired after Rudy became deputy chief of staff . . ." (my italics).

And once DeLay hired these characters--whom Feehery depicts as ruthless, dishonest bullies--he then chose to encourage their worst tendencies. As Feehery notes, "Tom prized the most aggressive staffers and most often heeded their counsel." When someone hires and promotes the meanest and most underhanded people he can find, makes them his chief strategists, and never tries to rein them in, doesn't it seem fair to assume that he shares their vicious traits and in fact hired them because of those traits--not despite them?

Feehery's article is a valiant attempt at spin control, testing a potential new Republican meme: Tom DeLay, innocent victim of an over-zealous staff. But there's a limit to how far the facts can be spun . . . and Feehery has passed it.

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