DANCING FOR ACQUITTAL
By way of introduction, Mance tells one of the classic legends of Texas singers, that of the man who sings his way out of prison. It is well known that Huddie Ledbetter sand his way out of Texas's Central (nee Imperial) Prison Farm and that Lightnin Hopkins sang his way out of an East Texas road gang. They say that Texas Alexander did the same and, in fact, the story is told about most singers with any reputation at all.
--liner notes to Mance Lipscomb: Texas Sharecropper and Songster (Arhoolie Records, recorded 1960)
That was the first thing that came to mind when I heard that Tom DeLay was going to appear on Dancing with the Stars -- that he was planning to use the appearance as a way to create a positive public image of himself, in anticipation of any future trial on felony money-laundering charges, in the hope that the folks in the jury pool would think of him as that nice man they saw cutting a rug on TV. (It's the secular flipside to what Richard Scrushy, the sleazebag HealthSouth CEO, did a few years ago: he started a TV ministry, and his very public show of Godliness apparently helped motivate a jury to acquit him on money-laundering and fraud charges in 2005, although he subsequently lost a civil and was ordered to pay $2.8 billion earlier this year.)
Yeah, that's what I thought when I heard DeLay was doing this. When I actually saw him do it last night, I thought: Oh. My. God.
(Full -- and even more horrifying -- video here.)
Yeah, but who would fall for this kind of charm offensive? Only some dumb ol' rubes -- right? Um, well, check out the reactions from various Politico writers:
Staff Writer Lisa Lerer: ... The instructions were a "sexy and sassy" salsa. And while no one could really call DeLay's hip shakes, air guitar, or UPS man-gone-Las Vegas brown costume all that seductive, his performance was -- I'm shocked to admit -- almost graceful....
Gossip Columnist Anne Schroeder Mullins: When it comes to personality and charm, Tom DeLay hit it out of the park. After all, he loves to shake his tush. (A little too much perhaps.) And who needs dance moves? The Hammer stormed the dance floor and won over an unsuspecting crowd while he enthusiastically air-guitared and lip-synced "Wild Thing." Even Cheryl Burke said her partner is "charming." Tom DeLay gets an A.
Senior Political Writer Jonathan Martin: That was no politician going through the motions or merely being a good sport. The Tom DeLay cha-cha'ing, lip-synching, booty-shaking and air-guitaring his way through his "Dancing with the Stars" debut was a man on a mission.... He wanted it -- bad....
Features Editor Pia Catton: ... All in all, he was charming, playful, and seemed like he was having a good time. I laughed, I cringed, I sort of enjoyed it.
Senior Editor David Mark: "Hot Tub Tom" is back! On "Dancing" DeLay showed flashes of the fun-loving party animal from the 1970s he describes in his autobiography, "No Retreat, No Surrender." ... While partner Cheryl Burke had the better technical moves, the conservative Republican was in command....
I'd say, to use the old Molly Ivins standard, that DeLay had some Elvis in him -- but it was Elvis filtered through mid-'80s Twisted Sister videos and drunk karaoke.
Will it work? Oh, sure -- like a charm. I think of an old Phil Nugent post in which he described hearing a woman say (during Rod Blagojevich's extensive media tour earlier this year) that Blago was really guilty of nothing more than "acting like a jerk." Phil said of the media tour:
... what if it sort of worked? What did Blagojevich really hope to get out of it? Maybe he'd given up hopes of keeping his job but still hoped to stay out of jail and maintain his celebrity as a lovable doofus, because he's studied the careers of George Wallace and Oliver North and knows that a man who maintains his celebrity has managed to hold onto his long-term political viability. The Feds turned Blagojevich into one kind of cartoon character, the foul-mouthed cynical pol who's openly crooked as shit. Rather than waste his time trying to wipe away that image, Blagojevich countered by plastering the airwaves with images of himself as a different kind of cartoon: the endearingly shameless jackass, too amusing to be venal. Has it worked? It worked with that woman behind me.
And Blago seems like an amateur at this compared with DeLay. This dancing stuff worked with the Politico folks. It'll work with Grandma when she's in the jury pool.