Magazine article Insight on the News

News Analysis: GOP 'Allies' in Wonderland

Magazine article Insight on the News

News Analysis: GOP 'Allies' in Wonderland

Article excerpt

Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on. "`I do,' Alice hastily replied; `At least I mean what I say -- that's the same thing, you know.'"

When House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas eventually gives up politics, he could do worse than audition for the part of Alice in a dramatization of her adventures in Wonderland. Picturing the former pest-control expert as Lewis Carroll's child heroine may be a stretch, but he does possess one major self-admitted qualification for the role: He says things he doesn't mean.

Unfair? When DeLay announced on July 23 to a crowded late-night Republican meeting that he hadn't meant to tell dissidents he'd back their coup against House Speaker Newt Gingrich he pulled off a remarkable achievement. He became the first Republican since George "Read My Lips" Bush to compete successfully with Bill Clinton in demonstrating that mouth moving and brain thinking can be distinctly unrelated exercises.

DeLay's "I said it but I didn't mean it" excuse might not fly as an alibi -- few Republican members privately accepted it -- but it certainly rivals Al Gore's "no controlling legal authority" as the sound bite most likely to be remembered from this year's political season.

At the best of times Capitol Hill can do a fair job of challenging Los Angeles as America's official theater of the absurd, but with the botched coup the People's House managed to scale new zany heights that even a fantasist such as Carroll would be hard-pressed to describe. The House GOP leadership had gone through the looking glass into Wonderland and "Alice" DeLay led the way, with a little help from fellow Texan "Humpty Dumpty" Dick Armey, otherwise known as the House majority leader, and Rep. Bill "White Rabbit" Paxon of New York, who appears to be in such a hurry to get somewhere these days that he is compulsive about being late.

For Susan Page of USA Today the "get Gingrich" effort was a matter of "Shakespeare meets the Three Stooges." Maybe the surreal Shakespeare of Midsummer Night's Dream, but certainly not Julius Caesar. At least the ambitious Brutus and Cassius actually got to wield their knives and stab the emperor. Say what you will about the House speaker, but surely he deserves the courtesy of serious palace intrigue and not an ambush with water pistols at a Mad Hatter's tea party.

As plots go, the one against Gingrich was a nonstarter and doomed to failure from the beginning -- not only did it lack an adult strategy but the conspirators quarreled and couldn't agree on whether Humpty Dumpty or the White Rabbit should take over from Queen Newt. Maybe after a few stiff drinks -- and a long period of counseling -- the plotters will be able to chuckle at their 10-day effort to shake the world.

In the end, all they accomplished was to shake them selves up -- and become the butt of jokes for a Capitol Hill press corps prematurely resigned to a dull summer of number-crunching tax debates. "Et tu Brute?" Hey, pull up a chair and bring the popcorn. Who says them stuffy Republicans are boring?

Certainly the Democrats didn't, seem to think so. From the moment the Hill weekly newspaper's Sandy Hume disclosed that Gingrich's lieutenants were plotting a coup the smirks never left their faces. As well they shouldn't -- it isn't often a mature political party decides to spontaneously combust before your very eyes. As they whisked back and forth through the swinging doors separating the speaker's lobby from the House floor, Democrat members cast amused glances at their Republican rivals and positively glowed as they observed packs of re porters pouncing on any GOP regular who had the temerity to loiter. …

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