E.J. Dionne: DeLay Could Make Boss Tweed Blush, But Clinton? His Enemies Overdid That

Yesterday, I noted the DeLay "giddiness" of Post columnist Eugene Robinson, a long-time "objective" journalist for the Post, allowed to let it all hang out. But also on the Friday page was a column by E.J. Dionne, who used to be a highly respected political reporter for The New York Times and the WashPost. (Suffice it to say he hasn't been as well-reviewed, at least by conservatives, as a columnist.)

In a column titled "A Blow Against the Machine," Dionne was rejoicing that the DeLay indictment offered a perfect opportunity for the Democrats to run in 2006 against Republican cronyism and corruption. It did not matter at all whether Ronnie Earle had an indictment that would stick, or if Ronnie Earle was too obsessive to help the Democrats. But on January 29, 1999, his Post column was titled the "The Public's Logic," Dionne was insisting that the investigation of Clinton was not about crimes (perjury or obstruction of justice), but it was just all about politics. Conservatives lost because they were too harshly obsessive.

Yesterday, Dionne insisted "Defenders of politicians under attack typically say, no matter what the abuse is: 'But everybody does it.' That excuse does not work here." What you won't find in Nexis is a Dionne column with outrage over the Clinton machine taking donations from foreign nationals.  He doesn't seem to remember John Huang, or Charlie Trie, or Johnny Chung. He doesn't seem to remember White House coffees. He doesn't seem to remember Hillary Clinton and Al Gore posing for pictures with cocaine dealer/donor Jorge Cabrera, or the Gore Buddhist Temple fundraiser. (He started writing columns after a bunch of this surfaced, but he didn't seem to go back to it, as Hillary and Al ran for high office. He didn't have much to say about the 2000 conviction of Gore associate Maria Hsia, for example.) All this, apparently, is being outdone by Tom DeLay:

Yes, there has always been logrolling in Washington. What's genuinely new is the scale, organization, reach and brazenness of the GOP's machine. Even Boss Tweed might blush.

This case comes at an awkward time for some Republicans, including President Bush -- but at an ideal time for reformers. After the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe, journalists and members of Congress are looking more carefully at the political connections of those who get millions from federal contracts and those hired for key federal jobs. In a detailed report this week, Time magazine raised important questions about "whether political connections, not qualifications, have helped an unusually high number of Bush appointees land vitally important jobs in the Federal Government." It would be hard to find a more appropriate description of the behavior of a political machine.

DeLay's fate will be decided in court, but the larger issues raised by his case must be adjudicated by voters at election time. Republicans can already see the outlines of a 2006 Democratic campaign waged against cronyism, corruption and ineptitude. If ever Republican reformers had an opening for an insurrection against their party's deeply flawed power structure -- Sen. John McCain and Reps. Zach Wamp, Chris Shays and Mike Castle are among those who could lead the rebellion -- this is it. To save their party, Republicans will have to bring down the machine.

Bleah. John McCain wouldn't save the Republican Party. He'd simply deliver it, caged and declawed, to the liberal media. In 1999, Dionne applauded the idea that the public was wise enough to see through conservatives for objecting to the fact that the country's chief law-enforcement officer couldn't tell the truth in court, and he rehearsed testimony with aides like Betty Currie. The public wisely objected to conservatives' partisan ethical obsessiveness.

[T]he public's logic in this case is seamless: If most people don't want a president judged by his sexual life, and if they come to believe they've been forced to do so primarily by the actions of his enemies, they'll turn even more harshly against them than against him.

That's why a majority has decided that this case is at bottom about neither sex nor perjury nor obstruction but politics. It's why Democrats have found it easy to hold firm behind Clinton. And it's why Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott -- having made relatively modest concessions to House managers on the issue of calling witnesses -- will try to shut the trial down as fast as he's able.

A year ago, it seemed that Clinton's critics might win the argument. He surely gave them the ammunition. Clinton came back not because he was so ingenious, and certainly not because he was guiltless. His enemies threw away a rather powerful case because they were too public and too unrelenting in their willingness to use every available weapon to get rid of him. The public didn't like that, and still doesn't.

DeLay vs. Earle Washington Post
Tim Graham's picture