Tom DeLay and his followers are like one of those glass-sided ant houses. They show us how the whole industrious neoconservative colony works. Take his stances on the balanced budget issue. In 1996 he was one of the leading advocates of shutting down the government over the issue. He opposed Bob Dole's efforts at compromise with the Clinton administration. "If [Bob Dole] wants to cave in to the wishes of the White House he can do it ... but we are going to get a balanced budget," DeLay said (New York Times, Jan. 4, 1996). Under the Bush administration, however, he has pushed every tax cut, apparently unworried about the record deficits. And, to top it all, he has now authorized debate on the House floor of a balanced budget amendment.
Balanced budget is important. Balanced budget is not important. Balanced budget is important. Do you get the feeling that he doesn't give a flatulent emission about a balanced budget? Yet, these flips and flops are conducted with great energy. They must have survival value. As we look through the glass of the DeLay-led neocon ant colony we can see two distinct activities: 1) a great grabbing of money for wealthy supporters, friends, and family. (Tom has a brother, Randy, who gets paid lots of money to lobby for various forms of corporate money grabbing. Space limits prevent getting into the relevant Bush and Cheney money channels, as in Carlyle Group. Read Joe Conason's book Big Lies.) 2) An energetic public display of vote-getting pieties -- balanced budget, flag burning, religious fundamentalism, something nice about family -- which camouflage them as being regular guys and get them reelected so they can continue with number one.
Tom DeLay's political career seems to have begun with the banning of DDT. The replacement chemical cost his Houston company, Albo Pest Control, more money, reducing its profits. He pronounced the EPA "the Gestapo," put down his spray gun and took up politics. Since becoming a congressman he has routinely allowed corporate lobbyists to write anti-environmental legislation, tried to gut the Clean Air Act, favored drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Preserve, and sponsored a bill to cut the EPA's budget by a third (Jan Reid in Mother Jones Sept/Oct 1996). The corporate supporters get what they pay for. Corporate profits are important. Corporate profits are important. Corporate profits are important. No flips. No flops.
Is it that simple? Just something he learned from his former adversaries at Albo Pest Control -- an ant-like obsession with hoarding up treasure and a clever use of ant-like camouflage? Only here the ant simile breaks down a bit. The camouflage is not to avoid predators, but to lure voters. It's really sucker bait. Republicans have used the three f's of fundamentalism, flag and family, as sucker bait for years. Bush senior admitted after his election that he planned no attempt at a pledge-of-allegiance law, the issue he had railed about all through the campaign. He knew what Tom knows: The thing about sucker bait is that you can use it again next election, and next, but only if you don't do something stupid, like make it into law. Oh, they introduce a bill or two, a flag burning amendment, a prayer-in-school law, a balanced budget amendment. They get the Dems to vote against the flag and against praying and against a balanced budget, and then they quietly mothball them, put them back in the closet for next election.
DeLay's career makes this essential truth of our politics transparent. His religious fundamentalism, for example, seems to have developed simultaneously with the growth of same in his district of Sugar Land, Texas (see Jeff Goodell's "The Exterminator of Capitol Hill," Rolling Stone, May 10, 2001). When he blamed the Columbine massacre in part upon the fact that evolution was taught there, his remark was quoted widely as evidence of dim-wittedness. But he may not really be that dumb. As sucker bait it was brilliant.
And DeLay neocon patriotism is made of the same stuff. Virtually all neocon pols dodged the draft during Vietnam while vocally supporting the war. See Al Franken's chicken hawk chapters. Tom said that "true patriots" such as he and Dan Quayle couldn't find a place in the military because of all the minority people who had signed up. Hey, Progressive Populist readers, he doesn't expect us to believe that, but heads nodded agreement in Sugar Land.
The Ten Commandments in granite are put in the public square for the purpose of being hauled away by liberals. The culture war is World Wrestling Federation stuff. Only the clueless believe it.
In trying to understand these guys we have thought too hard. They are not that complicated. It's the money, folks. George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize winning economist got it exactly right. Referring to the Bush administration's economic policies, he says, "What we have here is a form of looting" (Spiegel Online 2003). Some conservatives, Sen. John McCain for one, undoubtedly operate on principle. But for the DeLay neocons, and that seems to be most of them these days -- White House crew included -- it's sucker bait and it's looting, and it should be as clear to us as a glass-sided ant colony.
Bill O'Neill is a retired English professor in Stout, Wis.