Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Democrats' Paradox

update, 6/1/06: The article I discuss below is, in fact, online, and you can read it here.

Putting aside the issue of whether it will be enough, in 2006, for Democrats to return to power in Congress solely on the strength of Republican venality and ineptitude, here's my take on the central dilemma the party faces:

To achieve partisan ends, they must eschew partisan means.

In other words, if they ever hope to again have a sustainable majority, the Democrats have to stop acting like Democrats. I'm not referring to the usual MSM-regurgitated critiques: the lack of a single voice, the muddled message, the schizophrenia (as if any major party at any time could avoid that). I mean the interest-group stridency below *and* the reflexive trimming and self-preservation above. Most of all, if they want to lead, prominent Democrats must stop being afraid of getting out in front of public opinion--and if we hope that others not online or intensely engaged in politics will follow, we need to stop being so damn condescending to our countrymen and -women.

What brings all this up? A piece in the current New Yorker, which details the ongoing struggle between the moderates and the true believers. (The article isn't online, but here is a Q&A with the author.) The story begins with a lot of the usual disingenuous arguments that annoy progressives about media portrayals of Democrats: shots at the Kerry campaign, an unsubstantiated jab at Howard Dean, etc. In that sense, it's annoying to read. But toward the end of the piece, the author makes two points that I found very disturbing--as, I think, should any progressive who hopes to see Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008.

The first, which has been talked to death everywhere else so I won't delve too deeply into it here, was the author's perception--one that, sadly, strikes me as accurate--that progressive activists just aren't very interested in issues of national security and particularly the struggle against Islamofascism.

These people--maybe it's a New York City thing--should be burning with outrage that we haven't caught bin Laden, that we haven't cracked down on financing for terror networks among our "allies" (and creditors, which probably explains things) in the region. They should be asking why we haven't even tried (to my knowledge) to create means of cultural outreach to the Arab world, to show them that America represents more than military power, to replicate the idealism of the Peace Corps and related efforts that helped win hearts, hearths and minds in the Third World, to really get smart about how we try to spread our ideas and ideals in that world rather than just giving it to Karen Hughes and Madison Avenue types with ties to Republican donors.

They should be asking why the president never called on his country to get personally involved in the effort, whether through writing letters to soldiers or setting up pen-pal programs with Iraqi schoolchildren, or even for some kind of new GI Bill for returning troops. If this is a "Long War," we'd better be trying to win it with more than military power.

The second was his description of the abortion debate, specifically the back and forth at one recent Democratic event:

Recently, at a meeting held at the Center for American Progress... an abortion-rights activist named Rachel Laser... was impatient with the refusal of others to view abortion as a moral issue as well as a personal one. "I said at this session that there are 1.3 million abortions in this cuontry and that's too many, and it's too many for the majority of Americans," Laser... recalled. "Polls show that a majority of Americans think that abortion is morally wrong some or all of the time, and we have to address that."

After Laser spoke, the moderator asked the audience "by a show of hands, how many people here think that 1.3 million abortions is too many abortions?" As Laser remembers the moment, "It was only me and maybe one other who raised our hands. I definitely touched a nerve. The fact is that the majority of Americans are pro-choice, but the majority of Americans also sees something sad in what this procedure does."

This is political tone-deafness--not to mentin stupidity and self-sabotage--of the highest order. As I think I've written on AIS before, I'm a big fan of the Prevention First Act as both good public policy and a political masterstroke. Laser (great name; think of Dr. Evil chatting her up) gets this; we can make the conversation about the rank hypocrisy at the core of the Dobson/Robertson position on abortion, which is that they're perfectly happy to keep the number of abortions at current levels if the alternative is fewer pregnancies through greater access to contraception and sex education. Most Americans aren't ideologues or theocrats; they'd like to see fewer unwanted pregnancies and fewer terminated pregnancies. Don't the Democrats?

Some are saying that 2006 is a "competence, not ideology" election. Fair enough, and successful progressive governance will move more Americans toward our worldview. But we have to change our elitist habits, and we can't just insist on our superior morality and rectitude. The first step to changing someone's mind would seem to be acknowledging that s/he has one.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Colbert's Greatest Coup
Even while on vacation this week and next, Stephen Colbert keeps leading the pack in American journalism. Now it seems his groundbreaking work has gotten the attention of one of Colbert's heroes, the man whose departure from Congress dropped the Colbert Report's "Better Know a District" feature to 433 parts... the one, the only Tom DeLay.

The Bugman cites Colbert's parodic interview with lefty documentary-maker Robert Greenwald as fuel to discredit Greenwald's new film "The Big Buy: Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress." The clip is at the top of the "Defend DeLay" website. I swear to freakin' God. I read about it at the link above, and figured it would be gone by now (11:30 Wednesday night), but it's not.

I know it's probably too much to believe that DeLay, or any of his thuggish associates, have much of a sense of humor... but damn, don't they read those papers they link to, just down the page? The NYT has repeatedly written about Colbert's White House Correspondents' Dinner performance, here and here for starters. I'm assuming that the Wall Street Journal, National Review, Houston Chronicle, Washington Post, and other broadsheets linked from this page have done so as well. Tone-deafness is one thing, but this goes far beyond.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Leadership vs. Showmanship
For I think the second time ever, I'm feeling a bit sorry for George W. Bush today.

(The first time was after reading a New Yorker story a year or two ago that included an anecdote about Bush visiting a wounded soldier at Walter Reed Hospital in DC. When he asked the young man what he could do for the troops, the soldier responded, "Make sure there's enough water." Bush ordered water sent to the man's unit by the hundreds of gallons--a small gesture, but one that suggested to me that in the face of war, the president must be as helpless and anxious as anyone else... not to mention much more potentially stricken with guilt.)

As you're probably aware, the president is scheduled to go on national TV tonight to announce his decision to send National Guard troops to patrol the U.S.-Mexican border. Attentive followers of politics saw this coming at least two weeks ago, when new White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten's plan to preserve Republican congressional majorities leaked out. Tonight's installment of Karl Rove's stagecraft-as-statecraft is the first item on the list:

1 DEPLOY GUNS AND BADGES. This is an unabashed play to members of the conservative base who are worried about illegal immigration. Under the banner of homeland security, the White House plans to seek more funding for an extremely visible enforcement crackdown at the Mexican border, including a beefed-up force of agents patrolling on all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). "It'll be more guys with guns and badges," said a proponent of the plan. "Think of the visuals. The President can go down and meet with the new recruits. He can go down to the border and meet with a bunch of guys and go ride around on an ATV." Bush has long insisted he wants a guest-worker program paired with stricter border enforcement, but House Republicans have balked at temporary legalization for immigrants, so the President's ambition of using the issue to make the party more welcoming to Hispanics may have to wait.

Of course, there are problems with this plan. First, it's making Mexico, an increasingly important trade partner, very nervous--and it could help Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (a potential ally of the leftist Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, and likely no great friend of the U.S.) in his close race against Vicente Fox's chosen successor, Felipe Calderón. Second, as Republicans like Chuck Hagel and Arnold Schwarzenegger have noted, the move puts further strain on a National Guard already depleted by the demands of the Splendid Little War. Finally, of course, there's the question of how we'll pay for this new action.

All this gets me to why I feel a bit of sympathy for Bush. As I understand it, what he'd really like to do on immigration--combine stronger enforcement of current law with a fairly generous program to put millions of those who entered the country illegally but are working and otherwise contributing on a path toward citizenship--sounds pretty logical. It's impossible to argue otherwise than that immigration has been a great, maybe the greatest, historical strength of the country--even though at every step of the way, from the anti-Irish Know-Nothings of the 1850s, to the anti-Semitic strain within the Populist Party 50 years later and down to the Minutemen today, small-minded bigots have raised hell at the specter of newcomers. Naturally, their heirs and champions in the DeLaystertner Republican Congress have passed an enforcement-only measure.

The demographics of the country--particularly the prospect of 76 million Baby Boomers retiring over the next 25 or so years--make it more important than ever that we bring in younger workers and take steps to integrate them into the national community. (For this reason, I'm ambivalent about the various measures to make English the official language... though I could probably get behind them 100 percent if such laws came with an ironclad commitment to fully fund English-language instruction for everyone who wanted it.) More immediate are the concerns of major Republican donors in the service sector of the economy--fast food restaurants, department stores--whose profit margins are partially dependent upon their ability to hire illegals (and government willingness not to enforce related laws). So Bush is caught between the fear and loathing of his Fox News-watching base, and the greed of his biggest corporate benefactors.

The irony is that his preferred approach, if sold well, not only might placate both groups, but is likely the best course of action. And here's where my sympathy ends.

In Team of Rivals, her wonderful book about Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet, Doris Kearns Goodwin makes a profound observation about the art of political leadership: public figures must simultaneously be responsive to public opinion and seek to lead and shape it. Her example, of course, is Lincoln's approach to the question of slavery and the war. Historians might argue forever about Lincoln's true intentions on ending slavery, but Goodwin makes the point that the great political accomplishment of the first 18 months of the Civil War was to lay the groundwork for the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. A measure that, if promulgated a year or even six months earlier, might have short-circuited Northern support for the war and torpedoed Lincoln's presidency, instead helped the North win by reinvigorating abolitionist fervor and preserving the neutrality of the European powers. On issue after issue, Lincoln repeated this sublime balancing act, always mindful of how far the country would go while seeking to lead it in his preferred direction.

In the hands of a Reagan or a Clinton, much less a Lincoln, Bush's immigration policy might be a huge political winner. But when a president has so thoroughly committed himself to theatrics--and so completely undermined his own credibility even with many presumed allies--the leadership option is taken off the table.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Republican Endgame: Lower Taxes, Higher Spending

Having pretty much comprehensively failed to govern the country in a relevant, let alone competent, fashion, the Republican majority in Congress is going back to the tax-cut well one more time. For the sake of the nation's finances, pray it will be the last time:

Congress is poised to extend a number of tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, along with a very temporary "fix" of the alternative minimum tax and a deceptive new retirement savings break. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who's worried he will become Minority Leader this November, called it a "day of celebration for the American people."

We don't hear much celebrating. According to the Brookings-Urban Institute Tax Policy Center, 80 percent of this bill's benefits would go to the top 10 percent of taxpayers, with almost 20 percent going to the top one-tenth of one percent of taxpayers. And the cost of this highly concentrated bonanza is being disguised by (a) making it a "temporary" extension, even though the Bush administration and its GOP allies fervently want to make these tax cuts permanent, which would expand the cost 15-fold; and (b) treating a new Roth IRA rollover provision as a revenue raiser, when it's clear the long-term impact would be quite negative.

This certainly continues the Bush Era GOP pattern of cynically hiding the cost to the public of tax cuts by making them temporary, and then extending them to "avoid tax increases" (hence the name of this legislation: the Tax Increase Prevention and Reconciliation Act). But this particular exercise in chicanery is even more cynical: The administration and the Republican congressional leadership have made it clear they will come back with another tax cut bill between now and the November elections, creating, no doubt, another "day of celebration." Slicing up the tax cuts not only enables them to squeeze legislation into the special rules that prevent a Senate filibuster; it also helps distract attention from the continuing imbalance between serial tax cuts that balloon the budget deficit and the small spending cuts (mainly affecting low-income Americans and those relying on student loans) they've enacted.

To put it another way, this strategy represents deficit financing on the installment plan, and fiscal irresponsibility in bite-sized nuggets.

In a minute, I'll get to why I'd characterize the size of the irresponsibility as Value rather than Bite. But let's just stay with the politics for a moment. The DLC brief goes on to note that the new tax cut package "is intended to remind privileged GOP constituencies they have a tangible stake in helping Republicans hang on to power, while offering a withered booby prize to dispirited conservative "base voters" agitated by the aimless drift of their party and its leaders." That's true, as far as it goes, but it's only half, or maybe a third, of what the mutant-strain Republicans plan to do in pursuit of their political self-perpetuation. Their main complementary strategy is the other half of what we might call the Thomas Frank Two-Step: angry up the blood with a raft of proposals that have no chance of passage, but might stoke the fires of librul-hate.

The House and Senate agendas are packed with bills that, even supporters concede, have no chance of passing but that social and fiscal conservatives clamor for, like constitutional amendments banning flag-burning and gay marriage. By bringing them up, Republicans hope to inspire a constituency that has fractured in its support for President Bush and the party. They also hope to cast Democrats as obstructionists by drawing their plentiful ''no" votes.

But some GOP moderates fear the strategy risks alienating moderate voters, whom vulnerable Republicans need at the polls in November.

The strategy is on display during what Senate majority leader Bill Frist dubbed ''health week" in the Senate. On Monday, the Republican-controlled Senate considered two bills that would limit medical malpractice judgments, even though the Democrats were expected to stop the measures with a filibuster, and did.

Still, Republicans used the Senate debate to blast Democrats for their ties to trial lawyers and to accuse them of blocking progress. Meanwhile, the GOP leadership has tabled bolder but more controversial healthcare proposals, such as expanding stem cell research and allowing US citizens to import prescription drugs from Canada.

''What a waste of time," said Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's number-two Democrat. ''Republican leadership has given up on doing anything that is substantial and necessary. All they're dealing with now are bumper-sticker issues."

The efforts to feed red meat to their base come as opinion polls indicate that Bush and GOP congressional leaders' approval ratings are sinking near record lows.

The third leg of the right-wing stool (a word I use advisedly) is what Newsweek's Howard Fineman describes as Karl Rove's "Nightmare" strategy: switch the focus from endemic Republican failures by demonizing heretofore-obscure Democrats like John Conyers, Charlie Rangel and Henry Waxman, who might be in line for committee chairmanships should Democrats reclaim a majority. The pushback against this assault will tell us how far the Democrats have--or haven't--come since Rove won the 2004 election with one of the great political accomplishments ever: turning the election into a referendum on John Kerry's character (or rather, Rove's caricature of same) rather than on George W. Bush's first-term job performance.

So much for politics; back to the interesting stuff. The June Atlantic Monthly describes a recent analysis conducted by economist William Niskanen, chair of the libertarian and fiercely anti-tax Cato Institute, on the relationship between tax cuts and spending. Niskanen's findings strongly suggest that a basic premise of Republican governance over the past quarter-century--that tax cuts constrain the growth of government by limited resources--is 100 percent wrong. Far from "starving the beast," the most cherished dream of Grover Norquist and the generation of right-wing activists now in power, it seems that cutting taxes actually encourages higher government spending:

To the naked eye, Starve the Beast looks suspiciously counterproductive. After all, spending (as a share of the gross domestic product, the standard way to measure it) went up, not down, after Reagan cut taxes in the early 1980s; it went down, not up, after the first President Bush and President Clinton raised taxes in the early 1990s; and it went up, not down, following the Bush tax cuts early in this decade.

Niskanen recently analyzed data from 1981 to 2005 and found his hunch strongly confirmed. When he performed a statistical regression that controlled for unemployment (which independently influences spending and taxes), he found, he says, “no sign that deficits have ever acted as a constraint on spending.” To the contrary: judging by the last twenty-five years (plenty of time for a fair test), a tax cut of 1 percent of the GDP increases the rate of spending growth by about 0.15 percent of the GDP a year. A comparable tax hike reduces spending growth by the same amount.

Again looking at 1981 to 2005, Niskanen then asked at what level taxes neither increase nor decrease spending. The answer: about 19 percent of the GDP. In other words, taxation above that level shrinks government, and taxation below it makes government grow. Thanks to the Bush tax cuts, revenues have been well below 19 percent since 2002 (17.8 percent last year). Perhaps not surprisingly, government spending has risen under Bush.

As the author notes, these findings--particularly coming from the leader of a cornerstone institution of the conservative movement--are "in a sense tragic" for true believers on the right. They signal an unanswerable disconnect between favorite means (tax cuts) and cherished ends (smaller government). If tax cuts lead to bigger government, then the right has abetted what by its own lights is a great evil, and now faces a Hobson's choice of either turning away from further cuts--indeed, embracing higher taxes--or driving the economy right over the cliff. The latest Republican tax package indicates that we'd all best keep our seatbelts buckled.

Grover Norquist has come to national prominence as "the Lenin of the Right." Of course, Lenin's USSR eventually fell under the weight of its internal contradictions and wrong assumptions. Norquist's movement might be poised to suffer the same fate.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Jon Chait: Vote for Lieberman to Stick It To the Base

When left-wing activists elevate their own purity over political effectiveness, I'm happy to criticize - the point of political activism should be to accomplish, either in the short- or the long-term, better ends. Some of the reasons for irrational, self-defeating left-wing actions, of course, are grounded not in political calculation, where they should be, but in personal feelings. Harmless yet irritating car magnets get described as "fascist," meaning that they get on someone's nerves; people rally to basically centrist politicians like Howard Dean because they symbolize for angry, uncompromising opposition to Bush, not because of their actual, substantive policy stances.

In Connecticut just now, we're seeing a nice demonstration of the univerality of that tendency. Liberal activists are sensibly trying to be the left wing of the possible, just as they should be - and they're getting pushback from Jonathan Chait, a centrist who thinks he's dispassionate, but who's just engaging in the same politics of personal enmity as some of his enemies.

In yesterday's L.A. Times [link soon to expire, see Brad DeLong's discussion here], Chait considered whether Constitution [formerly Nutmeg] State Dems ought to support Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Senate primary, or rally behind his upstart opponent Ned Lamont. He opens by wringing his hands:"The lefties say the Democratic senator from Connecticut is a self-righteous suck-up who lends President Bush undeserved credibility. Lieberman's allies say the lefties are a pack of crazed, ignorant ideological cannibals. They're both basically right. So how am I supposed to deal with this?"

Well, the 'lefties' aren't running for U.S. Senate here - Ned Lamont is. And Chait's agreed that his opponent is, in general, a 'self-righteous suck-up who lends President Bush undeserved credibility'. Is that really true? In fact, it's worse than that, as Chait himself observes - at least half of the piece is a catalog of Lieberman's miserable performance as a Bush-kissing [literally] corporate lapdog:
Lieberman, unlike other Democratic hawks, musters little passion for exposing and correcting the massive blunders the Bush administration has committed. When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Lieberman noted, in Bush's defense, " Those who were responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001, never apologized." (As if anybody was suggesting we were as bad as the terrorists.) Last fall he said, "In matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation's peril." The clear implication is that it's counterproductive — traitorous, even — to call the administration on its foreign policy dishonesties. This is not how the loyal opposition in a democracy ought to behave.
That's exactly right - since 2004, Lieberman has taken over Zell Miller's role as the nominal Democrat to whom the GOP and Sean Hannity turn as lead shill for Bush's disastrous foreign policy, the man who will kick his own labelmates when they're down, cast indirect aspersions on their patriotism, and undermine democratic [small-d] debate and dialogue.

If that weren't enough,
He is a longtime supporter of taxing capital gains at a lower rate than other income — a stance gratifying to owners of stock but lacking in economic sense or basic fairness. He has long opposed sensible financial regulations. Even after his pro-business stance came under fire in the wake of the Enron scandal, Lieberman opposed sensible reforms. (As one of Lieberman's friends told the New Republic's Michael Crowley in 2002, "It'll be remembered that he didn't go off the deep end" — meaning, after the populist furor dies down, Lieberman could resume raking in contributions from grateful executives.) He supported the disgraceful energy bill and federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case.
Now the question becomes, does it make political sense to work for the defeat of a senator this bad? After all, if Lieberman were U.S. Sen (D-ID), he'd be just as far left of his mountain state's electorate as Rick Santorum is to the right of the woebegotten people of Pennsylvania. Undermining him would be crazy - there's no chance you'd get Paul Wellstone in his place; you'd be guaranteed to wind up with six years of Tom Coburn or Ted Stevens or some pro-militia woman eating endangered species to display her contempt for the environment.

But that's not the case here - Connecticut is a solid blue state, where the Dems are near or at veto-proof majorities in both houses of the legislature. Chait himself notes
There is a sound political rationale for picking off Lieberman. Republicans only tolerate political moderates if they hail from states or districts that won't elect staunch conservatives. It's a pure strategic calculation. The GOP supports Republican moderates such as Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee because they represent "blue states." Those who come from "red states" are expected to toe the line.You don't see a moderate Republican in a safely red state — the GOP equivalent of Lieberman. That's one of the reasons the Republicans have been able to maintain tighter discipline than the Democrats and jerk the political center of gravity rightward.
Ned Lamont is no Chuck Pennacchio - he's an accomplished businessman and a millionaire, able to fund a legitimate campaign and well within the political mainstream of Connecticut. Lieberman deserves to be knocked off, and there's a sound political rationale for doing so. So does Chait support Lamott?

Of course not. You see,
the anti-Lieberman campaign has come to stand for much more than Lieberman's sins. It's a test of strength for the new breed of left-wing activists who are flexing their muscles within the party. These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent. Moreover, since their anti-Lieberman jihad is seen as stemming from his pro-war stance, the practical effect of toppling Lieberman would be to intimidate other hawkish Democrats and encourage more primary challengers against them.

In the entire piece, Chait does not have one single negative thing to say about Ned Lamont. No, he's opposed to Lamont solely because he dislikes some of his supporters. Of course, Lamont's backers are not actually 'crazed, ignorant ideological cannibals.' If they're well-informed - indeed, if they read Jonathan Chait columns - they'll know plenty of valid reasons to oppose Lieberman. And there's nothing crazed or cannibalistic about their efforts to take Lieberman down, which are well-grounded and sensible. Indeed, Chait himself notes that they're not going after other Dems, like Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton, who still support the war effort without defending torture rooms and secret prisons. And it's ridiculous to accuse the lefties of failing to tolerate dissent when they're working within the party nominating process to challenge a senator who's helping the Bush effort to silence dissent from on high.

So what's the problem? Chait just doesn't like these people. They rub him the wrong way. And their candidate can't be allowed to win even if he's the demonstrably superior choice. And that mindset pisses me off. There are a certain number of people on the left who are guilty of the sins Chait lists, and they can be frustrating, and their simplistic slogans and refusal to tolerate dissent should be opposed. But they're not running for Senate - instead, they're acting just like political activists have always acted. They're ideologically rigid when you talk to them one-on-one, or when you read them on Democratic Underground, or when they send you hurtful emails, but when they're working on an election, they're not trying to silence anyone - they're taking part in the democratic process. They're just some of the people who are supporting a candidate, and to call for the defeat of that candidacy just to teach a lesson to one wing of the party is itself a refusal to tolerate dissent. As Padraig observes, "the one thing that becomes very clear reading Chait is that the republicans are adversaries, but the Left wing of the Democratic party is the enemy. Lieberman helps the former, which is bad, but we shouldn't replace him because that would help the latter. "
"Why Did You Resign?"
That's the question everyone is asking Porter Goss, the now-former head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Goss himself isn't telling; his best response, as Dick Polman reports, is that it's "just one of those mysteries"--a more interesting rejoinder, at least, than "to spend more time with my family." One run-down of possible explanations is here; they include dissatisfaction with Goss by his immediate supervisor, John Negroponte, and his ultimate (at least nominal) boss, President Bush, as well as various speculations as to involvement with Hookergate. Nobody seems to think that Goss himself frolicked with prostitutes, but it seems like some of his higher underlings did, and when it all comes out, the shame will flow upward.

Of course, there's only one really good response to the question Goss refuses to answer:

I will not make any deals with you. I've resigned.

I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.

My life is my own.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Tom DeLay: Original Gangsta
One of the sweeter moments in my life came one afternoon in 1999 or 2000, during my second year in grad school. For some reason, GPPI had invited Charles Murray, the right-wing writer who emerges every few years with another racist manifesto thinly veiled in pseudo-intellectual theorizing, to speak. Blathering on about whatever piece of garbage he was hawking at the time, Murray drew a sharp distinction between the moral conduct and core values of "the underclass" and those the rest of us hold and live by. Of course, he made particular mention of the "disgusting" sentiments expressed in hip-hop and rap, where stealing, screwing and every other form of self-gratification was celebrated.

When it came time for Q&A, I got the microphone and asked him whether, given the corporate transgressions and large living we remembered from the 1980s, the ongoing sexual misconduct of political leaders from both sides of the aisle, and the conspicuous consumption of people like Donald Trump, it might not be the case that, rather than repudiating the values expressed by the most prominent and visible people in American life, these supposed deviants might not instead be showing them the highest possible regard. The room erupted in a roar as Murray sputtered at my "very immature question."

This pleasant memory bubbled up today when I read about Tom DeLay's latest little problem:

Prosecutors have e-mails showing Rep. Tom DeLay's office knew lobbyist Jack Abramoff had arranged the financing for the GOP leader's controversial European golfing trip in 2000 and was concerned "if someone starts asking questions."

House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting free trips from lobbyists. DeLay, R-Texas, reported to Congress that a Republican advocacy group had paid for the spring 2000 trip that DeLay, his wife and top aides took to Scotland and England.

The e-mails obtained by The Associated Press show DeLay's staff asked Abramoff — not the advocacy group — to account for the costs that had to be legally disclosed on congressional travel forms. DeLay's office was worried the group being cited as paying the costs might not even know about them, the e-mails state.
Abramoff's credit card bills show the lobbyist initially charged tens of thousands of dollars in air fare for DeLay's trip to his American Express card. Cullen said he believes the lobbyist consulted with an ethics expert before making the payments.

The trip, which included golf at the famous St. Andrew's professional course, and others like it have become symbols of Abramoff's largesse to lawmakers and a focal point of the criminal investigation into influence peddling on Capitol Hill.

DeLay has steadfastly maintained he believed that the center paid for the trip as he reported.

The e-mails show that when DeLay's office began preparing the required disclosure reports for the free trip, his aides asked Abramoff's lobbying firm for the cost figures instead of the GOP group.

"Our financial disclosure forms from the England/Scotland trip are due tomorrow afternoon. ... I would appreciate if you would send me your information," a DeLay aide wrote Abramoff's firm.

The e-mails show Abramoff's team provided then-DeLay chief of staff Susan Hirschmann a final cost figure of $75,600 for the weeklong European trip taken by DeLay; his wife, Christine; Hirschmann; Hirschmann's husband; and Rudy.

Golf at St. Andrews, fine scotch and steak, and theatre. It might not exactly match up to cruisin' in the Benz stretch limo with the Cristal flowin', but then again Jay-Z, 50 Cent and their peers don't fling the bling on anybody's dime but their own.

And if I might get a little old-school, the emerging Hookergate scandal really suggests that for more than a few DC Republicans, life ain't nothin but bitches and money. DeLay, who was once known as Hot Tub Tom, must be proud.