Republicans in Washington, nervous as a cat over the Jack Abramoff scandal, lost no opportunity to portray this as a "bipartisan" problem. It is not, however; it's not even close. Not a single dollar did Abramoff give to a Democrat; they all went to Republicans, most notably Reps. Tom DeLay, R-Texas; Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and Richard Pombo, R-Calif., plus Sens. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Conrad Burns, R-Mont.
Clients of Abramoff gave to both Republicans and, in smaller amounts, to Democrats. But whether the recipient was Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., or Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., their relationship with Indian tribes and contributions from those tribes predate Abramoff's efforts on tribal issues. Dorgan is the senior Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Hayworth is cochairman of the Native American Congressional Caucus.
That said, this is not really, in broad terms, a Republican scandal either. Look at Minnesota's Republican congressional delegation. Not a single one of them has been linked in any way to Abramoff.
It is, however, a scandal of the current Republican leadership. As Michael Lind points out in his books "Made in Texas" and "Up From Conservatism," that leadership is heir to the particular conservatism of Dixiecrats like Strom Thurmond, who bolted the Democratic Party in protest over its civil rights agenda. They were, Lind writes, from "the former Confederacy [and] first joined and then took over what had once been the party of Lincoln."
The Dixiecrats' heirs are arrogant, ruthless, concerned with power and money above all, and quite adept at using fear to activate allies such as poor whites and religious conservatives. As chronicled in three books by Merle and Earl Black, this strain of Southern Republicanism has, since 1980, become normative in the vast, upscale suburbs that now dominate the region, to the point that dissenters are considered eccentric and "unsaved." This group has so thoroughly hijacked the party of Lincoln that you can see its influence even in Minnesota, most notably today in use of fears about immigrants and gays to improve their election chances.
You can also see it in the way these "Dixiecans" exercise their control of Congress: with an iron fist and a willingness to slap down anyone who challenges them. Most Republicans and Democrats no longer have any real influence on legislation passing through Congress; it is written by a small group close to leadership and presented on the floor with the expectation that Republicans will fall in line to support it. If not, in the House the vote will be kept open for hours on end (once limited to 15 minutes) until enough arms can be twisted and favors doled out to get the desired outcome. Then there's DeLay's "K Street Project," which sought to intimidate Washington lobbying firms to employ only Republicans or get shut out on Capitol Hill.
To keep their base happy, these Dixiecan leaders will stop at nothing; witness their attempts to wrest control of Terri Schiavo's life from her husband as the religious right demanded, an effort that finally caused most Americans to turn away in revulsion.
The Dixiecans built the atmosphere in which Abramoff thrived. Like Tammany Hall's George Plunkitt, Abramoff "seen his opportunities and he took 'em." But it was the Dixiecans who created those opportunities.
The Republican Party really is a grand old party, with a storied history in American politics. The question is: When will real Republicans push the Dixiecans out and reclaim their party? Whether Dixiecrats or Dixiecans, this group of miscreants is a pox on American democracy.
The Star Tribune