Dancing With DeLay Watch Week -1: The Hammer Time

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With less than one week to go until the season premiere, media attention around Tom DeLay's turn on Dancing With the Stars has reached a fever pitch. Alas, most media outlets seem to willfully overlook his political career. Thankfully, Dancing With DeLay-Watch is here to recount how very, very bad DeLay was for Texas, and America.

While in Congress–that is, before he was indicted for massive finance violations, due to the $600,000 in illegal and unreported corporate donations accepted by his PAC, and his efforts to launder $190,000 through the Texas GOP, and forced to step down–DeLay was known as “The Hammer.” He earned the nickname while serving as Majority Leader, due to his ability to pass close votes in the House. Let's take a look back at some of what he accomplished.

This Week: 'U Can't Touch This Permanent Republican Majority'

Who better to comment on DeLay's history than the original dancing Hammer? I asked MC Hammer what he thought about Tom DeLay's upcoming appearance. However, despite repeated Tweets at my former favorite musician, I received no response from the self-proclaimed new media expert. Heartbroken, I stifled my sorrows with research into Tom DeLay's time in Congress, looking for evidence of any past Congressional dance training that might help him out now.

In 1998, Slate presciently described him as “the politician who could determine whether Republicans secure their slim majority or degenerate into their usual fratricidal anarchy.” Considered to be “as conservative and vitriolic as anyone in the House,” he helped lead the charge to impeach Clinton, and referred to the Environmental Protection Agency as “the Gestapo.” Slate also reported on the increasing influence awarded by DeLay to corporate lobbyists:

With lobbyists he likes (that is, conservative Republicans), DeLay is as obliging as can be–he even lets them write legislation to benefit their industry. But DeLay essentially extorts contributions from others. … He also told lobbying firms and trade associations that he wouldn't help them unless they fired Democrats and hired Republicans. Even in the notoriously greasy world of D.C. lobbying, DeLay's shakedowns are considered excessive.

DeLay's do-si-do down K Street basically filled lobbying firms with former employees and loyalists who funneled even more money into the Republican party. DeLay mastered the quick-step of increasing the influence of money in politics, and thus decreasing the ability of regular Americans to make it on to the Congressional dance card. DeLay even enlisted lobbyists to help him line up votes for various pieces of legislation. One lobbyist recalled, “I've had members pull me aside and ask me to talk to another member of Congress about a bill or amendment, but I've never been asked to work on a bill – at least like they are asking us to whip bills now.”

In 2002, DeLay was elected Majority Leader, and earned the nickname “The Hammer” for his arm-twisting on close votes and revenge-taking on those who didn't fall in line. He threatened to support primary challengers to Republicans who didn't toe the line, and promised leadership positions to Congressional Republicans who were otherwise not eager to support him. He took care of the rank-and-file Republicans, though–an astute vote-counter, he often made sure contentious bills passed by only one vote, and let moderate Republicans take turns voting against hard-right legislation so as to not harm their reelection chances. If arm-twisting's his game, perhaps dance partner Cheryl Burke should worry that he's going to wrench her limbs right out of their sockets to get her to toe the line on a particular move.

Though DeLay considered the Bush years to be his most halcyon time in the House, at times he found even the President to be insufficiently conservative. DeLay defied the president when he refused to extend Bush's tax cuts to people making between $10,500 and $26,625 a year. Later, DeLay opposed Bush's energy bill because it did not retroactively protect the makers of a poisonous gasoline additive from lawsuits. DeLay's own legislative agenda demonstrates how out-of-touch he is with the American people. In one Congressional term alone, The Nation writes,

He co-sponsored bills to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Energy, make English America's official language, establish right-to-work laws nationally, gut the Endangered Species Act, remove all limits on campaign contributions and enact a host of antilabor and antiabortion standards.

His record might underscore a technical problem when he hits the dance floor: DeLay seems incapable of turning to the left.

Of course, such hard-core right-wing partisanship ultimately became DeLay–and the Republicans'–downfall, when less than two years after Karl Rove crowed about a “permanent Republican majority,” the Republicans took a bath in the 2006 Congressional midterms, losing 30 seats in the House and 6 in the Senate. The election–a referendum on Texans Bush and DeLay alike–finally reversed the 1994 “Republican Revolution” that installed DeLay as the Majority Whip. Once describing himself as “the ditch digger who makes it all happen,” DeLay ultimately became one of the key figures in burying the Republican majority.

DeLay's dancing feet will hammer America's television screens this Monday, September 21, on the Season Premiere of Dancing With the Disgraced Republicans Stars. If you're here in Austin, join the Travis County Democratic Party for a watch-party, date/time TBA. (Nevermind, not this week, alas.) Unfortunately, the party is BYO-Barf Bag.


Past Episodes of Dancing With DeLay-Watch

Week -4: Mugshot Mambo Edition

Week -3: Dirty Financing Edition


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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