I’ve got no inside track on DeLay, but I imagine that whatever prosecutors were wringing out of his line of former top aides who are pleading guilty one after another to fraud and corruption charges had something to do with DeLay’s announcement yesterday.
DeLay probably has some complicated legal wrangling of his own ahead — but I’d like to step back from all of the excitement about his departure and try and figure out a constructive contribution that DeLay can still make to American politics.
I learned Japanese politics from a number of people, but one of my key mentors was Shin Kanemaru, one of the Tanaka faction strongmen who served as Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Party, for a number of years and was one of the key “kingmakers” of Japanese prime ministers in the 1980s. Kanemaru was a master of old-style Japanese politics and fashioned Japan’s ethic of political structural corruption into an art form.
Kanemaru was eventually arrested. They found $50 million in gold bars in his home closets, but believe me, that was just the tip of the iceberg. I feel very lucky to have been given a glimpse inside Kanemaru’s world because I saw Japanese politics as they really were, not as the many books on Japan’s political system theoretically and antiseptically proposed.
I should add that Congressman Barney Frank told me that the difference with DeLay is that he didn’t “self deal.” But given the dealing to his wife and close associates, I think Frank needs to reconsider.
Learning from the masters of corruption, of those who have made a mockery of governance and regulation, and thrived is important. There’s the famous case of Joseph Kennedy who manipulated the pre-SEC stock market, and then later was put in charge of establishing the Securities and Exchange Commission as he was such an expert in what the manipulators did.
America has no good texts today on the realities of how American politics work. Clearly, Tom DeLay and his party have taken us in a direction that feels and smells more corrupt than ten years ago. Enron is part of this era. The secret energy policy meetings with Cheney are as well. Political donations for access. Boeing and the air tanker scandal.
But we act today like American politics is still operating in a purist way. It’s kind of like free trade, University of Chicago-trained economists who beat the table in free trade vs. protectionism debates but fail to recognize that South Korea dominates the global DRAM and flat planel industries today because of policies antithetical to Chicago School neoliberalism.
To understand “how a bill becomes a law,” like the old School House Rock jingle put it, one must better understand lobbyists, money, and the realities of a more structurally corrupt political system.
I’d argue that Tom DeLay is America’s Shin Kanemaru — and we should learn from him.
DeLay, as part of any rehabilitation plan or any attempt to apologize for his sins to the American public, should write a book something like Eric Redman’s classic work, The Dance of Legislation.
Redman’s book is a fantastic primer for any young staffer going into Congress. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) gave me the book with an inscription from him the first day I worked in his office. The book is dated today — and Tom DeLay should write a similar treatment of American politics that ignores theory and gets to the praxis of politics.
That way, Americans and those who are trying to get their head around the context of reform have a clear picture of how ugly and distorted our political system has become.
There would be no one better than Tom DeLay to give this insider’s view of America’s structurally corrupt political order today.
Tom, give me a call if you are interested.
— Steve Clemons