Saturday, May 14, 2005

Tom's Testimonial

Tom's Testimonial
Ari Berman

With the Republican House Majority Leader under fire from a series of ethics violations, how does the conservative movement choose to respond? By throwing an exclusive $250-a-plate testimonial dinner in Tom DeLay's honor.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to a celebration of the vast-right wing conspiracy," the dinner's emcee, Cleta Mitchell of the American Conservative Union, proclaimed in kicking off the festivities. It was to be a night for the far right, featuring video testimonials from Dennis Hastert, Jesse Helms and James Dobson, and speeches by Tony Perkins, Brent Bozell, Phyllis Schlafly and RNC chairman Ken Mehlman (along with a guest appearence by Jeff Gannon).

Per usual, the attacks were directed at liberal politicians and "their friends in the liberal media," as DeLay put it. Bozell denounced "this whole sorry inquisition" of a "media blinded by red-hot hostility to this man." Schlafly raved about "hysterical paranoid liberals," while Perkins warned, "If they pick a fight with Tom DeLay, they pick a fight with all of us." "At various points," wrote the Washington Post's Mark Leibovich, "the New York Times, Washington Post, Dan Rather, Frank Rich and Bob Woodward were singled out and duly hissed, to varying degrees, by the audience."

DeLay clearly relished the opportunity to go on the offensive amongst friends sporting "Hooray for DeLay" stickers. "No ideas, no leader, no agenda," DeLay said of his Democratic critics. "And in just the last week we can add to that list: no class." To celebrate their leader's lofty moral position, DeLay was "served a red-white-and-blue fake cake festooned with sparkles and plastic hammers--a reference to his nickname, The Hammer--while the band played 'If I Had a Hammer,'" the Times reported.

Hammer cakes and tunes aside, the dinner was also evidence of the Majority Leader's increasingly polarizing presence. "The only way DeLay would be damaged is if his friends walked away from him," Grover Norquist, a key GOP ally for lobbyists on K Street, said earlier in the day. But when it came time for the dinner, Norquist was notably absent, along with representatives from the White House, scheduled speaker Rep. Scott Garret of New Jersey and a majority of House Republicans, of whom only two dozen attended. DeLay's legal defense fund raised $47,750 from January through March this year, far less than the $254,250 amassed in the last quarter of last year.

The conservative crowd seemed not to notice. DeLay received three standing ovations, the last before his speech at the end of the evening. He thanked his wife Christina--also a recipient on his political payroll--for standing by him "even back in the days...when I made a lot of mistakes and was a self-centered jerk." You could say the same about the right-wing, right now.