What Tom DeLay can teach the Democrats

Putting aside his politics and his ethics, the Hammer knows something about taking a stand.

Published June 9, 2006 3:01PM (EDT)

We joked the other day about the prospects of finding Tom DeLay in Las Vegas for YearlyKos. It turns out that it's not such a crazy idea.

There's a strange sort of collapsing of walls going on here. Bloggers and people who read bloggers are packed cheek-to-jowl in the "offline world" with the politicians the bloggers cover and the Washington reporters whose work they often criticize. The social structures of the thing, the usual pecking orders of life, are hard to discern. You look across the room at a conversation -- Gen. Wesley Clark with AMERICABlog's John Aravosis, Maureen Dowd with a whole pack of bloggers -- and it's impossible to know which way the thing is going. Who's interviewing, and who's being interviewed? Who's predator, who's prey? Maybe they're all just talking, but who wants it more?

What everyone here does seems to want -- and given journalists' need for conflict, it's probably fair to include them in the "everyone" here -- is a new generation of Democratic candidates who aren't afraid to stand up for something. There's a reason that "Lieberman" is a dirty word here, and it's the same reason that the mention of Jon Tester, the Democratic nominee for Conrad Burns' seat in the U.S. Senate, inevitably draws applause. One man has become the symbol of Democratic appeasement; in another, progressives have poured their hopes for a new sort of tell-it-like-it-is populism.

Which brings us back to Tom DeLay. The Hammer gave his farewell address from the House floor Thursday, and -- if you take out the policy particulars and the allegations of criminal wrongdoing and wipe out everything you know about Tom DeLay, who he is and what he's done -- the themes he sounded were a lot like the ones we're hearing here.

DeLay argued that all the hand-wringing about the "recent rise in political partisanship" is really "nothing more than a veiled complaint" about Republicans who push hard for their political agenda. He said that he doesn't "begrudge" liberals if they feel nostalgic for "the days of a timid, docile and permanent Republican minority," but he insisted -- and he's certainly right on this point -- that those days are behind his party, at least for now.

So how do Democrats pull off the same trick? How do they go from "docile minority" to empowered majority? DeLay knows -- like the people gathered here know -- that you don't do it by caving in to the opposition or trying to be more like it. What you do is, you make the case that your way is a better way, and then you stand up and fight for yourself when anybody dares to say different.

" Now, politics demands compromise ... and even the most partisan among us have to understand that, " DeLay said Thursday. "But we must never forget that compromise and bipartisanship are means, not ends, and are properly employed only in the service of higher principles.

"It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle. For the true statesmen ... are not defined by what they compromise, but by what they don't."

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga couldn't have said it better.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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