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Hammers' Hubris

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By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, April 26, 2005

There sits The Hammer, broken down and dejected, a man who once had preened and strutted on top of the world but suffered a long, hard fall, brought low by hubris and a series of inexcusably bad decisions regarding his personal finances.

I'm talking about the rapper M.C. Hammer, of course, and the cringe-inducing television commercial that pokes fun at his spectacular crash and burn. The other "Hammer," Tom DeLay, isn't at that stage yet. The most powerful man on Capitol Hill is still at the beginning of his self-destruct sequence -- too early, probably, to call his break-dancing, free-spending namesake for advice on surviving such a public fall from grace.

It must be tough for the House majority leader (and former top-notch pest exterminator, to hear him tell it). He's nothing if not a smart politician, so he must know that as soon as the scales tip from "asset" to "liability" his political life expectancy in Washington becomes as short as that of the critters he used to stalk in the cupboards and basements of bug-infested Houston.

Don't get me wrong: May the proclaimer of the "culture of life" enjoy happiness and good health. But back in Texas, please, wielding a can of Raid instead of a whip and a gavel.

A major architect of the hard-right majority in Congress, DeLay got his nickname by being the biggest, baddest bully in town. The avuncular Dennis Hastert may be speaker of the House, but DeLay is known as the man who really runs the Hill, enforcing discipline and keeping the troops in line -- our own Cardinal Ratzinger, without the vestments. At the moment, he's being kept in power by two things: gratitude, because so many congressional Republicans owe their seats to his smart political machinations; and fear, because you don't attack the king unless you're sure he's going down.

Supplies of both are finite, though -- as modern predecessors in the same predicament, Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich, found out. This is a bipartisan road to ruin. Republicans will cease to be grateful when they decide that DeLay is a drag on the party; and they will cease to be fearful when enough of their own line up against him to make it clear that he's going down.

I don't think we're there yet, and it's obvious that Democrats would like to draw this out as long as possible. At the very least, there was no reason for them to leap at the GOP's proffered "deal" that would launch a House ethics committee investigation of DeLay but keep in place Republican rules changes that would let the committee turn a blind eye to future scandals.

Why would the Democrats want to hurry things along when DeLay is still enduring the drip-drip-drip of new revelations? On Sunday, in a major dollop, The Post reported that travel and lodging expenses for DeLay on a legislatively vital golfing trip to Scotland -- our elected representatives hard at work, ladies and gentlemen -- were paid with the credit card of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who's having fall-from-grace problems of his own.

What is it, anyway, that makes golf-inclined power brokers in Washington think a grateful nation appreciates their need for a round on the hallowed links at St. Andrews? DeLay could have played at Hains Point, 10 minutes from his office, and saved himself a lot of grief.

What must be most worrisome to DeLay's fellow Republicans on the Hill is that his political instincts seem to be slipping. He led them down the wrong dark alley on the Terri Schiavo case. His snarling attack on the federal judiciary was so off-base that he quickly had to admit "inartful" phrasing, and then he went back at it with a shocking personal attack on a sitting Supreme Court justice -- a Republican appointee, no less.

It's tempting to compare his rhetorical flailing to one of his rap-star namesake's dance routines -- tempting to imagine DeLay in gold lamé pants like something from the Arabian nights, with thick gold chains around his neck and a pair of diamond-encrusted shades, scuttling back and forth like a crab desperate to avoid the tongs trying to grab him and plunge him into the pot.

It's tempting, but it would be unfair. To M.C. Hammer. All he did was waste the millions he earned and go bankrupt. He didn't lead the Congress of the United States on a radical path toward reactionary theocracy (as DeLay did). And he didn't betray the public trust (as DeLay . . . well, the jury is still out).

eugenerobinson@washpost.com


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