06/24/2005: I just can't resist....
Karen's a golf enthusiast. I'm not (if you want my take on golf, just pick up any of the George Carlin albums featuring his monologues on sports in general or on golf in particular; the short form: golf is a dull, boring game, and golf courses are a waste of real estate). So I was interested to read this in Slate today: Caddy Hacks: Golf, the ultimate symbol of Republican corruption
On a Wednesday afternoon earlier this month, top Republicans quietly disappeared from Capitol Hill. House votes were suspended for several hours. What was afoot? An urgent briefing on Iraq, the troubled economy, the coming avian flu pandemic?Makes me glad I never got into the game.
Not exactly. The event that lured away the Republican throng, which included House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, was the Booz Allen Hamilton pro-am golf tournament held in suburban Maryland. Alas, politics waits for no tournament, and back on the Hill there was trouble. Short-handed Republicans on the House Committee on International Relations nearly lost a major vote on U.N. reform when two of their own defected to vote with the Democrats. According to Roll Call, Indiana Republican Dan Burton had ignored a specific warning not to miss the vote, which Republicans barely squeezed out, 24-23. A "freshly-sunburned Burton" returned to the Hill the next day to read that he might have sabotaged his chance to assume the committee's chairmanship next year.
For many Republicans, it seems, golf is like sex—it leads to reckless risk-taking. Sure, the game has its Democratic draw: Bill Clinton, for one, was a famous addict. But in today's Washington, golf is an intensely Republican sport. George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and Rick Santorum are all fanatics. John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi are decidedly not.
At the same time, the Republican obsession with golf reveals the party's phony posturing as the champion of average Americans. All the hand-wringing among Democrats about why liberals don't go to NASCAR races or duck hunts misses the fact that Tom DeLay and Bill Frist don't go to monster-truck night with the guys from Deliverance either. They hit the links at exclusive country clubs with rich donors and corporate lobbyists. That's who they are. Golf is an expression of the party's elite upper-class id.
And that id is what's corrupting the party. Consider the Abramoff scandals. Time and again, golf was the bait that Jack Abramoff—the conservative superlobbyist now under federal investigation—used to lure Republican politicians into his realm. When Abramoff shuttled dozens of congressmen and their staffs to the Northern Mariana Islands in the 1990s, as part of his campaign to keep local sweatshops free from regulation, the group teed up at Saipan's LaoLao Bay Golf Resort. "It seemed to be so much about golf," one disillusioned conservative who traveled to Saipan recently told my New Republic colleague Franklin Foer. Abramoff even billed the island government for minutes spent booking tee times.
Several other dubious Abramoff exploits have featured golf, including the two trips that now have Majority Leader DeLay in deep trouble.
It's safe to assume that Republican politicians and lobbyists don't spend all their time on the links trading putting tips. "Even conversation on the course is strategic," explains this profile in Lodging Magazine of Republican hotel-industry lobbyist Jack Connors. "Connors deliberately doesn't bring up business when paired with a legislator at a fundraiser: Invariably, however, somewhere on the back nine the legislator will ask, 'Jack, what's on your mind these days?' " Republican Rep. Joel Hefley recently recounted for the Hill "a golf outing where a lawmaker, whom he would not name, kept telling a lobbyist how much he admired his golf bag. Sure enough, the lawmaker soon had a new golf bag."
Some of the best evidence about the sport's corrupting function comes from a golf retreat/fund-raiser held three years ago in West Virginia for two of DeLay's political action committees. Energy-company executives paid as much as $25,000 to attend the retreat, which was held on the eve of House and Senate negotiations over a bill in which they had a huge stake. One of the executives later described tooling about in a golf cart with a top DeLay aide and pitching his case about the bill directly to the majority leader. For this, even the somnolent House ethics committee felt obliged to admonish DeLay.
Len on 06.24.05 @ 05:38 AM CST