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The GOP Debacle

If only Don Swan was here to see it


It's too bad Don Swan isn't around to enjoy this. As the Republican conservatives who've mismanaged the government the past six years dissolve in a self-inflicted implosion, I can't help but think of Don.

Swan, for newcomers, was a Charlotte "personality" during the 1980s and early '90s. The burly, intense and hilarious filmmaker/TV producer/actor/cook/photographer was also, for a while, a strong presence in the CL offices, where he served as photographer, distribution manager, liberal conscience, and all-around cruise director. He died of a heart attack, way before his time, in 1995 at age 38.

During these curious and appalling times, we could all use a dose of Don's knack for cutting conservative hypocrites down to size and his wicked sense of humor.

How wicked? When Rev. Jim Bakker broke down and began hallucinating between sessions of his Charlotte fraud trial in the late '80s, Don created a startling, pre-PhotoShop collage of Bakker arriving at the courthouse, surrounded by giant bugs and gorilla-faced reporters. We proudly ran it on the cover.

I thought of Don recently when Congressman Patrick McHenry showed up on my TV as part of the GOP's weird campaign to blame Democrats for supposedly leaking information about Rep. Mark Foley's cyber-stalking of pages. The Cherryville, N.C. congressman -- a GOP up-and-comer who once gushed that he was "blown away" when Tom DeLay said McHenry could be "the next Tom DeLay" (presumably he meant as a party leader, not a prisoner) -- is the kind of politician Swan loved to skewer.

The minute I saw McHenry's "young Republican attack-dog" act, I reached for the remote. But then I thought better of it as my aging brain coughed up a memory of Don arriving at the CL office one day, furious over something Rush Limbaugh had said.

I asked him, "Why do you even listen to that jackass? I mean, why do that to yourself?"

Don was quick in his reply. "Because you have to know what the other side's up to."

And he was right. It's damned unpleasant listening to bitter right-wing blowhards, a breed I find akin to some strange, artificial species that thrives on paranoia and hot air. But, as Swan said, what better way to find out what they're up to?

So I put down the remote and watched McHenry. And holy Jesus, my jaw dropped a couple of inches. Here was an obviously intelligent guy acting like a carnival barker, trying to divert the suckers' attention away from his cohorts' cover-up of Foley's pedophilia. The Washington Post reported, just before my deadline, that the initial Foley leaks were from a Republican, then were followed by more leaks from a Democrat. Even if McHenry's, and the rest of the GOP's, charges were true, well, as they say, "payback is a bitch," since Republicans have been winning elections with that kind of dirty trick for years.

The look in McHenry's eye told me he had drunk the Kool-Aid. That's when I realized just how utterly desperate the Republicans are, less than a month away from midterm elections. And how much they now resemble a group of thieves trapped in a spotlit corner, hoping no one notices the money hanging out of their pockets.

What a political party. Steamrolling any Democrats' objections, Congress rubber-stamped the misguided, hapless Bush agenda. They handed over the lawmaking branch of the people's government to the highest bidders. They pandered to religious fundamentalists' medieval views. And they topped themselves by indulging their own leaders' corruption, as seen in the actions of Sue Myrick, who has become a prototype of what's happened to the GOP. She came to Washington in 1994 as part of Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" crowd that pledged to install term limits and clean up Congress. Twelve years later, Sue's running for a seventh term, and not long ago voted to rewrite House ethics rules (as did McHenry) just so DeLay wouldn't have to give up his post as Majority Leader.

Now, when the GOP is caught hiding a pedophile in order to keep a safe House seat, their only defense is to lash out at the Democrats? How pitiful is that? Surely this is the final, sordid chapter in the gradual loss of the Republican Party's soul. As Time magazine put it last week, "Every revolution begins with the power of an idea, and ends when clinging to power is the only idea."

Again, I just wish Don Swan were here to see it. He would have loved the GOP debacle and found ways to create humor from it and take the edge off the tragedy of the situation. Maybe he'd make up more of what he and I called "upside down names," i.e., terms politicians or corporations use to hide what they're doing. Like Bush's Clean Air Act, which allows increased pollution. Or the Environmental Quality Co., where a hazardous waste fire drove thousands of Apex, N.C. citizens from their homes last week.

Maybe Congress could be renamed the Thrifty Defenders of National Honor. The GOP could become the Justice and Diversity Club. And Patrick McHenry could head up the Full Disclosure Truth Squad. How are those, Don?

To contact John Grooms, e-mail him at

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