Jewish World Review May 10, 2000 / 5 Iyar, 5760
It turns out, not even remotely surprisingly, that what was meant by this was that the politics of personal destruction by Republicans must cease. The Democratic version, however, is perfectly fine. This, at least, seems to be the conclusion one can reasonably draw from the remarkable assault by the House Democratic leadership on House Republican Whip Tom DeLay--and from the remarkable lack of concern over this assault among right thinkers everywhere.
Tom DeLay is not one of politics' lambiekins. Known as "The Hammer," he takes joy in the good, clean fun of the game--the bashing of heads, the breaking of kneecaps, the twisting of arms, the crushing of the opposition. Democrats regard DeLay's ball-peening ways with a jaundiced eye--and in no case more so than in the area of fundraising.
DeLay is one of the House Republicans' best fundraisers. He brings to the task the same straightforward manner with which he approaches the legislative process, which is to say that he beats people up. By many accounts, DeLay favors a sort of reverse quid pro quo technique: Give unto us, or I will do unto you. In the words of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, "DeLay has a record of pressuring lobbying firms and trade associations to hire Republicans, give to Republican candidates and deny jobs and money to Democrats. And there have been serious allegations that he and his allies have threatened to hold up legislation to heighten the pressure."
DeLay's alleged tactics are certainly ugly, and especially so to Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy of Rhode Island. As chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Kennedy is responsible for guiding his party's effort to regain control of the House in 2000, and DeLay's fundraising makes that task harder. This was not right, thought Kennedy; why in fact, this was downright criminal.
So, on May 3, the DCCC filed a lawsuit accusing DeLay of "massive illegal conduct," principally extortion and money laundering, in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. At the heart of the lawsuit is an allegation that DeLay coerced contributions from donors and laundered those donations through political organizations to which he is connected.
The RICO statute, designed to help federal prosecutors break organized crime, has a long history of misuse. This latest form of abusing the law apparently has its roots in a 1998 suit by the conservative group Judicial Watch against Loral Space Corp. chairman Bernard Schwartz. In this, Judicial Watch accused the DCCC of "unjust enrichment" in accepting contributions from Schwartz, and also accused Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Gore of conspiring to violate RICO. Now Kennedy and the DCCC have retaliated, with nuclear weapons.
If this goes forward, party politics enters a new and quite possibly terminal phase, the era of mutual assured destruction. Judicial Watch is a private group, and does not, as far as is known, take its orders from the Republican Party. The DCCC belongs to the Democratic Party, and is answerable for its actions to that party's leadership, ultimately resting in the person of Bill Clinton. With Kennedy's lawsuit, we have, for the first time, the leadership of one of the major parties attempting to use federal racketeering law to disrupt the fundraising practices of the other party. Now, there's a great leap forward.
If the Democrats are successful, the criminalization of politics will no longer be a matter of rhetoric but of literal fact. A cycle of escalation is guaranteed. Republicans, noting that the Democrats also are aggressive in the pursuit of cash and also employ outside groups in that pursuit, are already talking about a countersuit.
Surely the Democratic leadership, so opposed to the politics of personal destruction, will rise up to protest Kennedy's dangerous and abusive act. But, lo, a great silence seems to have fallen upon the land. So far, not a peep from the leadership. Not from Al Gore, the party's man in 2000, not from victim-in-chief Clinton, not from House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who just last month urged a halt to "the cycle of near-violence" in Congress. Right thinkers everywhere are mum. Odd, very
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts