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September 29, 2005

Brooks: The Designated Hitter

David Brooks, in today’s NYT column, The Designated Hitter, provides part of the proof about why we shouldn’t trust Government.

In 1989, a young Republican congressman named Tom
DeLay dreamed of climbing to a position of power in
the House of Representatives. He hitched his wagon to
Ed Madigan, who was running to be party whip. But
another ambitious young Republican, Newt Gingrich,
stood in the way. DeLay ran Madigan's campaign and
Gingrich ran his own, and the contest was so brutal
that after Gingrich won, DeLay and Gingrich reportedly
didn't speak for two years.

DeLay didn't give up. He raised tons of money and
built an independent power base. But Gingrich was
rising faster. In 1994 he wrote the Contract With
America as part of his efforts to help the G.O.P. win
back the majority. DeLay nearly refused to sign the
contract, but in the end he raised $1 million for the
party during the 1994 election cycle.

Gingrich triumphed and became House speaker, but DeLay
still did not give up his ambitions. He ran for party
whip against Gingrich's best friend, Bob Walker. It
was another tough race, and this time DeLay won.
Gingrich hired much of Walker's staff.

Gingrich and DeLay formed a cold friendship, but their
differences were never far below the surface. In 1995,
DeLay sent Gingrich's deputy, Dick Armey, a letter
demanding that he stop criticizing DeLay in public.
Then in 1997, DeLay helped to lead a coup to depose
Gingrich as speaker.

The big difference between the two men is that while
Gingrich is a self-styled visionary, DeLay is a
partisan. Gingrich was quite willing to cut deals with
Democrats if it would serve some policy objective.
When Gingrich sacrificed some G.O.P. initiatives in
order to cut a deal with Bill Clinton to get flood
relief to the Midwest, DeLay and others decided it was
time to take the speaker down.

The coup failed, but the Gingrich Era ended soon
thereafter. The Gingrich Era had been marked by
ideological grandiosity and a failed attempt to shrink
the size of government. The DeLay Era, which commenced
with Gingrich's fall, would be different.

The DeLay Era would be marked by one word:
partisanship. Far from being a conservative ideologue,
DeLay was a traditional Tammany Hall politician who
would do whatever it took to put more Republican
fannies in House seats. DeLay was never the ruthless
tyrant news media reports made him out to be. He's
actually a modest, decent and considerate man. But he
is willing to sacrifice all else for the team.

Social conservatism helped the team, so DeLay
exploited it. Money from lobbyists could help the
team, so DeLay merged K Street and his operations. If
federal spending could help the team buy votes, DeLay
was willing. Over the past four years, according to a
Heritage Foundation study, spending on veterans'
benefits has gone up 51 percent; spending on the
Housing and Urban Development and Commerce Departments
is up 86 percent; spending on community and regional
development is up 71 percent.

Small-government beliefs were fine for the campaign
trail, but when it came to actual governing, the
spending just splurged out in a shapeless ooze, guided
by no sensible set of priorities other than the idea
that voters who get money may vote for incumbents.

Yesterday the DeLay Era ended. DeLay fell victim to
his willingness to push right up against the campaign
finance laws for the good of the team. Remember, DeLay
didn't do anything for personal enrichment. If he
committed a crime, he did it for the sake of the team.

Politics is a team sport. Nobody can get anything done
alone. But in today's Washington, loyalty to the team
displaces loyalty to the truth. Loyalty to the team
explains why President Bush doesn't fire people who
serve him poorly, and why, as a result, his policies
are often not well executed.

Loyalty to the team is why I often leave meals with
politicians thinking ''reasonable in private,'' but
then I see them ranting like cartoon characters on TV.
Loyalty to the team is why someone like Chuck Hagel is
despised in Republican ranks even though, whether you
agree or not, he is courageously speaking his mind.

Will we learn from DeLay's fall about the
self-destructive nature of the team mentality? Of
course not. The Democrats have drawn the
10-years-out-of-date conclusion that in order to win,
they need to be just like Tom DeLay. They need to
rigidly hew to orthodoxy. They need Deaniac
hyperpartisanship. They need to organize their hatreds
around Bush the way the Republicans did around

The old team is dead. Long live the new team.

Whatever the truth about whether Government can intervene in markets, in the economy, in redistribution, successfully, inevitably it will end up being run by those who pander to the interests that got them there. It becomes, from right or left, a game of allocating resources to one’s friends, even if one is in fact idealistic at first, the requirement to stay there makes it inevitable.

The only solution is, thus, to ask the Government to do less, so as to reduce those powers wielded by the attention seekers who will inevitably end up running the show. Tom DeLay or Ted Kennedy? Barring the current indictment, what’s the difference?

September 29, 2005 in Politics | Permalink


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