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New House Leader A Divider, Not A Uniter

by Jim Lobe

Capitol Police Shot Protecting Gung-Ho NRA Congressman
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- If "European elites" and other effete multilateralists consider President George W. Bush the 'Toxic Texan,' what will they make of the new Republican Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Tom DeLay?

While the spotlight this week has been on the rise of San Francisco liberal Democrat Nancy Pelosi to the post of House Minority Leader, DeLay's election as House Majority Leader is perhaps even more striking.

DeLay not only hails from Texas, as does the president; he is truly toxic. Before entering Congress in 1985, he ran a pest extermination business. And he still thinks all the talk about global warming, the ozone hole, and even pesticides like DDT as hazardous to human and planetary health is a lot of nonsense, "designed on computer models by environmental activists."

Next to Bush, DeLay has now clearly established himself as the most powerful Republican leader in the United States.

Unlike Bush, DeLay is a real Texas cowboy (although he learned how to rope steers in rural Venezuela). Prominently displayed in his office are two bull whips, which he likes to take down to show visitors how he keeps the Republican Caucus in line since he was promoted to the Majority Whip position in 1995 by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

He also differs from Bush in personal temperament and reputation.

Even his Democratic rivals call the president one of the most likable people in politics. The adjective that most often comes up to describe DeLay, even among some of his allies, is "mean." It is not for nothing that he is called 'The Hammer' and 'The Exterminator,' nicknames that rarely fail to bring a smile to his face.

He reportedly has not seen or talked with his mother since 1999, although she lives only 15 kilometres from his home in a Houston suburb.

In many ways DeLay embodies the Christian Right that has almost completely taken over the core of the Republican Party since the 1980s reign of former president Ronald Reagan.

Southern, white, intense, angry and self-righteous at the same time, profoundly anti-government in all things except national security, DeLay rarely speaks at any length without inveighing against the "elite" and the "privileged few who are determined to discredit and, ultimately, replace core American traditions."

He admits to finding it hard not to hate Bill Clinton.

Or, as he told the Christian Coalition in 1999: "will this country accept the worldviews of humanism, materialism, sexism, naturalism, postmodernism, or any of the other 'isms?' Or will we march forward with a biblical worldview, a worldview that says God is our creator, that man is a sinner, and that we will save this country by changing the hearts and minds of Americans?"

about DeLay's plans to impeach judges
His house is located on a golf course in Sugar Land, Texas. The surname of the pastor of his local church, with whom he meets often, is Rambo.

After Gingrich resigned in the wake of the 1998 elections, DeLay, who by then had built up his own formidable fund-raising machine, could have been elected to take his place. But, knowing that his extreme-right views and reputation for meanness would make him a lightning rod for Democratic attacks, he handpicked the avuncular former high-school wrestling coach, Dennis Hastert, for the House speaker's post.

For similar reasons, he decided against challenging another Texan with more seniority, Dick Armey, for the House leader's position.

The same considerations prompted Republican spin doctors to ask DeLay to take a very low profile during the 2000 elections, as Bush tried to depict himself as a moderate in order to appeal to political independents.

But DeLay's decision to become majority leader demonstrates clearly that he feels ready for prime time and the national media spotlight, possibly in preparation for a 2008 bid to succeed Bush himself.

Over the last two years, as Bush has shown more of his true colours, it has become clear that the two men are ideologically much more compatible on issues ranging from church-state relations and government regulation of business to global warming, Israel, and other key foreign-policy issues than had been assumed two years ago.

As early as May, 2001 -- that is, before the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks that empowered Bush's most right-wing foreign-policy advisers -- DeLay told The Washington Post that he did not see very many differences beyond style.

"George W. is really saying the same things we are. Only we are saying them differently, he said, to which his spouse noted archly, "dear, W. doesn't use words like 'Gestapo' -- a reference to the term DeLay routinely uses to describe the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In some ways, DeLay, with his intensity and anger, could be Bush's evil twin.

Indeed, it may be only personal temperament and family history that separate the two.

Even their personal histories are in some ways uncannily alike: Bush is only a couple of years older; as young men, both were known as carousers; both avoided Vietnam; both had problems with alcohol; both proved to be less than spectacular businessmen and have been accused of shady dealing; both have had been married only once, to women who appear more grounded than they do; both became born-again Christians and wear their faith on their sleeve; both entered politics relatively late in their careers; both have been prodigious fund-raisers and have made much of their concern for neglected or abused children; and both tend to see issues in terms of black and white, good and evil.

DeLay makes clear that his worldview was formed early. His father, a Texas oil wildcatter and chronic alcoholic who clearly did not spare the rod on his children, took them to live in Venezuela when DeLay was nine.

There, he said, he was exposed to his "first revolution" when "revolutionaries" ransacked the homes of his friends, the "caballeros," and massacred the people and animals living there, causing "total chaos and complete destruction."

"I carried two great lessons home with me from Venezuela. In many ways, they are the lessons of the 20th Century," he said three years ago. "First, every human life is sacred and precious. Second, power unconstrained by principle, unchecked by accountability is an awful and evil force."

A similar story explains his total opposition to relaxing the 42-year-old U.S. trade embargo with Cuba. When he was 12, he says, the plane on which he and his family were travelling from Venezuela to Texas stopped for refuelling in Havana immediately after the 1959 revolution.

"They took my mother, my sister, my brother and myself out of the plane, marched us down the tarmac between the stinking soldiers with big guns and German shepherds, put us into a room for over three hours," he told a national television news programme. "We had no idea what was happening to us," he added, "I'll never forget it."

These events clearly contributed to a perspective in which forces and politics divide into good and evil. This is clearly how DeLay sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, which he describes very much in those terms.

"The time has come to drop the empty pretence that we can serve the region as a mediator when Israel is resisting a campaign of death," he said in a speech earlier this year at Fulton, Missouri, where Winston Churchill, the right's icon for standing up against "evil," delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech at the dawn of the Cold War.

He describes a very similar dichotomy when he speaks about China -- which he calls a "Communist tyranny" -- and Taiwan, and he disdains European "appeasement" of "evil," be it in the form of Iraq, or al-Qaeda, or Yasser Arafat.

"Despite the expanding capabilities of terror regimes and the growth of evil organisations," he said in August, "Europe peddles excuses for inaction."

DeLay has no doubts that "the United States has been the world's greatest force for good," grounded in "the basic principles that are at the root of our exceptionalism," which he lists as "our faith in God, our belief in the sanctity of human life, our acceptance of moral absolutes and our certainty that we are ultimately accountable for our own actions."

To retain that "exceptionalism," he has been a staunch foe of global treaties and institutions, particularly the International Criminal Court (ICC). Last year, he introduced the American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA), which not only forbids Washington from co-operating with the Court, but authorises the president to use military force to free any U.S. soldier held by the ICC in The Hague or anywhere else.

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Albion Monitor November 22 2002 (

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