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Tom DeLay's Little Secret

by Christopher Brauchli

New House Leader A Divider, Not A Uniter
Each of them has unique problems. With one it was an out of control tongue-with the other a left hand didn't know what the right was doing. The tongue was Trent Lott's downfall.

Mr. Lott didn't mean to say what he said when he said people wished Strom Thurmond had been elected president and that the country would have been better off had it happened. Mr. Lott's renunciation of his tongue's utterance probably caused the tongue some anguish since by the time it was all said and done, Mr. Lott had virtually disavowed everything that had come out of his mouth on that fateful day and apologized profusely, hoping that abject apology would rescue flapping tongue and flagging political career. It did.. Mr. Lott remains in Congress, abashed and diminished, but still a United States Senator. His tongue is safely caged behind his teeth where it will, presumably, wag less uncontrolledly.

Tom DeLay has no problems with the tongue. His problem comes from his right hand. Before it controlled the levers of power, it controlled the buttons on insect repellants he administered as an exterminator. Having ascended to loftier heights as a member of the United States House of Representatives, his right hand betrayed him by affixing his signature to a letter, the contents of which he was ignorant. Just as Mr. Lott's tongue went off on an independent wag, Mr. DeLay's hand went off on an independent signing. The letter in question was addressed to Mr. DeLay's constituents. It was designed to raise money for the National Right to Work Foundation's legal defense fund.

The letter was dated January 8, 2003, about the same time Mr. Lott was explaining his tongue's travels. In it Mr. DeLay accused people he called "big labor bosses" of trying to expand their power at the expense of national security. He said their efforts represented a "clear and present danger to the security of the United States." He accused the longshoremen of having "exploited America's urgent economic and national security needs" by shutting down West Coast ports during 2002. He said the machinists' union had "shamefully exploited the nation's critical war needs" when workers went on strike for two months last year at a Lockheed Martin plant in Georgia that assembled F-22 fighter jets and C130-J military transports. The war to which he was presumably referring was the war that Mr. Bush had not yet announced he planned to undertake. In one of the more florid passages he said: "As the World Trade Center and Pentagon still smoldered, high-paid union lobbyists convinced Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton to try ramming through legislation to force the nation's firefighters and policemen to accept union bosses as their exclusive workplace spokesmen."

The language in the letter, we have now been advised by Mr. DeLay is not his. Only the signature is. He did not arrive at that conclusion independently. He was helped along by the reaction of others to the letter. James P. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union, a union that Mr. Bush has come close to successfully wooing, reacted by writing Mr. DeLay a letter. He said: "This anti-union screed not only insults the 1.4 million members of this union, it offends me personally." He went on to say that "While I take umbrage to any statement that questions the patriotism of myself and the members of this union, I consider such an accusation a particular affront to our Teamster Brothers and Sisters who are called to active duty."

Stuart Roy is Mr. DeLay's spokesman. Asked to respond to Mr. Hoffa's letter he said: "Tom DeLay doesn't believe the words that were being ascribed to him." He probably meant "subscribed by him" since his signature in fact appears on the letter. Mr. Roy said Mr. DeLay would not "approve the overheated fund-raising hyperbole in the letter." Presumably he also disapproved of the part of the letter that said that big labor exploited World War II to "expand dramatically its power at the expense of the war effort."

Mr. DeLay is good at explaining away incommodious facts. He used that skill when introducing Dan Quayle to a group of journalists at the Republican National Convention in New Orleans in 1988 after Mr. Quayle had been selected by George I as his vice-presidential running mate. His task was to explain away the fact that Mr. Quayle had avoided military service during the Viet Nam war. It was awkward to do since Mr. DeLay, too, had avoided service. According to a report in the Houston Press, Mr. DeLay had a neat explanation for how that all happened. It turned out there was no room in the service for either of them. As Mr. DeLay explained to the assembled reporters, so many minority youths had volunteered for the high paying military jobs offered those willing to go to Viet Nam that those wanting to escape poverty and the ghetto took up all the available slots leaving no room for people like him and Mr. Quayle.

That was as cogent an explanation as anyone has yet come up with to explain why he did not serve in Viet Nam and one for which Mr. DeLay has received far too little credit. It is hoped that this column will correct that historical omission and may help to calm the criticism he has received for disavowing the letter to which his hand affixed his signature.

Christopher Brauchli is a Boulder lawyer and and writes a weekly column for Boulder Daily Camera and the Knight Ridder news service

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Albion Monitor March 11, 2003 (

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