Columns » Max Brantley

The gold rules

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It has been interesting to watch the black-and-white crowd — the vast Religious Right — find shades of gray (if they see anything at all) when its heroes stray. Dick Cheney tells a U.S. senator to f*** himself? The tender eyes and ears of children are of no concern. John Bolton lies to Congress? There’s no screeching about the “rule of law.” A reporter for a phony Republican news organization who worked as a male escort gets extraordinary access to the White House at odd hours. No inquisition follows. Then there’s House Minority Leader Tom DeLay. Let the Democratic National Committee help us count the ways in which he’s strayed. A lobbyist for Indian casinos takes DeLay and his donors to a skybox for a Three Tenors concert. Shortly after, DeLay votes against a bill the lobbyist opposes. The Indian casino lobbyist, again, indirectly finances a $70,000 pleasure trip to England and Scotland for DeLay and staff. Another lobbyist pays to take DeLay to Russia. DeLay, through his personal PAC, pays his wife and daughter $500,000. DeLay uses another PAC to funnel corporate contributions to Republican candidates in Texas (corporate contributions are illegal in Texas). DeLay takes a free trip to Korea from a lobbyist, a violation of House rules. When the House Ethics Commission shows signs of getting tough on DeLay, Republicans change the rules and committee membership to make them friendlier to DeLay. DeLay threatens lobbying firms, telling them not to hire Democrats or give contributions to Democratic candidates. A Republican congressman is offered favors by DeLay in return for his vote on a Medicare bill. DeLay uses the Federal Aviation Administration to track down a plane used by Texas Democrats during a political stand-off over a DeLay-engineered redistricting plan. A DeLay-related PAC suggests it can deliver congressional access to an energy firm in return for contributions. Let’s be magnanimous. Let’s declare that, in each case, DeLay complied with the law, at least technically. Let us also assume that DeLay is correct when he says others in Congress, including Democrats, do it, too. Here’s where you’d hope the black-and-white crowd would stand up. Where they’d say self-dealing is still reprehensible, by anyone. Where they’d say things can be legal and still be wrong. But the religious folks who gathered on “Justice Sunday” to decry Democrats’ filibuster of judicial nominees are happy to ignore their heroes’ transgressions. They need not even get around to forgiveness. I heard one of them on the radio saying DeLay was targeted for criticism because he is a man of faith (as evidenced by his intervention in the Schiavo case). This is exactly what Sen. Mark Pryor bravely decried last week. The Religious Right asserts that if you disagree with them — whether on abortion, gay marriage or soybean tariffs — you are not a person of faith. And, by the way, only one very specific form of faith need apply for their seal of approval. Jews, Muslims, non-believers and the doctrinally wishy-washy need not bother. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, put it plainly at Sunday’s public chest-beating in support of more evangelical judges: “We are not asking for persons merely to be moral,” Mohler said. “We want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you’re Tom DeLay, of course, the morals part is negotiable.

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