Fear This Man

by Andrew Hanauer | 10/30/03 6:00am

There's a Texan in Washington, D.C., right now whom we should all fear. He has immense power, and is completely convinced of the righteousness of his terrifying ideas. He does as he pleases, using demagoguery to attack his opponents, and cares little for the consequences of his actions. No, not that Texan.

Tom DeLay was born in Laredo, Texas on April 8, 1947. He graduated from the University of Houston, and began a career in pest extermination. His ideological fervor began when the EPA banned mirex, used to kill fire ants, after finding it in mother's milk in the southeast and determining that it was harmful. So he entered politics, moved up the ranks, became connected with the Christian Right and the corporate establishment and now sits as Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Perhaps you haven't heard of Tom Delay? If so, don't feel ashamed; Tom DeLay doesn't want you to know who he is. "No significant player in contemporary American politics tries harder to avoid media celebrity than (DeLay)," writes John Nichols in a book on the 2000 Florida recount. "comfortably ensconced in the (second)-tier of Republican Congressional leadership, DeLay pretty much runs the Capitol." For Mr. DeLay, the man Republicans have referred to as their "crazy aunt in the basement," the less we know about him, the better. And here's why:

At some point in his career, Tom DeLay earned the nickname "The Hammer;" DeLay's basic philosophy is simple: punish your enemies and reward your friends. During the Republican Revolution in the mid-1990's, DeLay earned a measure of fame for essentially intimidating companies into giving to the Republican cause. He even kept two lists of companies, a "friendly" list and an "unfriendly" list. Nobody wanted to be on the unfriendly list. For DeLay, legislation is not about good public policy; it's about rewards and punishment.

"The New York Times" columnist Bob Herbert once said: "Anyone trying to move further to the right than Tom DeLay is in danger of falling into the void." DeLay called the EPA the "Gestapo of government," and referred to the Nobel Prize Committee as "Swedish environmental extremists." He suggested that he and former Vice President Dan Quayle (who used his father's political connections to get a coveted spot in the Indiana National Guard, much like our current president) were unable to fight in Vietnam because all the spots were taken by minorities attempting to escape the ghetto.

It is one thing for a person to make comments like these to his friends at the office, but it is quite another to say what he has said, believe what he believes, and be the most powerful man in the most powerful legislative body in the world. That, frankly, is scary. And speaking of scary "Guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence," DeLay has said. According to "The Nation," "the causes of youth violence, says DeLay, are daycare, the teaching of evolution and 'working mothers who take birth control pills.'"

His mean-spiritedness is unmatched. "To try to gauge just how out of touch the Democrat leadership is on the war on terror, just close your eyes and try to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet on the deck of that aircraft carrier," he told College Republicans. "I don't know about you, I certainly don't want to see Teddy Kennedy in a Navy flight suit anytime soon." Kennedy served in the military. DeLay did not.

Then there is the issue of the small island of Saipan in the Pacific Ocean. According to a 1999 Salon.com article, garments made in Saipan are made of foreign cloth and then shipped to the U.S. and labeled as "made in the U.S.A." because Saipan is technically U.S. soil. The article states that "some 31,000 textile workers live penned up like cattle by armed soldiers and barbed wire, and squeezed head to toe into filthy sleeping barracks, all of which was documented on film by U.S. investigators last year."

The workers are, essentially, indentured servants unable to pay off the fee they paid the company to get them out of China or Bangladesh. In the fine print of their contract, the workers discover that they are not allowed to drink, have sex or dissent from their bosses. When the Clinton administration attempted to change U.S. policy to improve conditions on the island, Washington Lobbyists headed by a former DeLay aide jumped to block the idea. DeLay himself was flown to the islands, where he declared the situation a "free-market success." A free-market success?

"I am very tired," wrote Li Zhen Hua, a 29-year-old Chinese woman in a letter to a friend obtained by the weekly "Dallas Observer." "I want to go back to my country but I can't because we must keep [sic] two years ... Very busy. So hard. Every day work up to 1:30. I've to work on Sunday. Too much to respond to your letters."

After DeLay declared in 1988 that he and Quayle had been kept out of Vietnam by minorities seeking good-paying military jobs, a television reporter present turned to nobody in particular and asked, "Who was that idiot?" Now you know.