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We are not inclined to do the happy dance over the announcement that Tom "The Hammer" DeLay is stepping down for what he claims is the good of his party. With key, close subordinates copping pleas or anticipating charges, DeLay's fall--whether by push or leap--was inevitable and just another sad indication of how corrupt the system of making laws has become.

As the legal process behind the dozens of investigations swirling around Congress and its well-fed lobbyists grinds on, the next few months promise to reveal the interlinking parts of a still-thriving machine that trades in influence, deal-making and campaign and consultant cash. Some pieces of the machinery will be intricate, arcane and hard to explain. Other parts will be instantly recognizable for what they are, like the fact that congressional staffers have used their knowledge of late-night special provisions slipped into bills to make profitable trades in the shares of companies earmarked for a D.C. largess.

This is the story of hubris and greed and the manipulation of nonprofits with lofty sounding names set up solely for the enrichment of those with access to the levers of power. We will hear over and over again that under DeLay's leadership, the number of special earmarks--gifts, really, of your money and mine--went from roughly 4,000 in 1994 to more than 15,000 in last year's budget.

We will be scandalized but not shocked. It is, after all, a very old story. And we'll be reminded that the fall of one general is not the fall of Rome, and it's a safe prediction that the day after the next politician goes down in disgrace, another will receive a fabulous trip, a splendid dinner, a hefty contribution or a consultant contract for a close relative in exchange for a vote.

It's tempting to ask "Where is the outrage?" But we live in a world fed by a media stuck on a 24-7 cycle that lends itself to neither contemplation nor perspective--where, to one blustery pundit or another, everything is an outrage and nothing is outrageous.

The concept of justice doesn't fit well within this fast-paced cycle. As we learn at a young age, its proverbial wheels turn slowly--and these days it seems agonizingly so.

We could take the easy way out, of course, and just become a little more cynical, jaded or just plain turned-off by it all. But this is a slow-motion train wreck worth watching, because it is one of those once-in-a-generation moments where the real guts of the system are exposed and the facts laid bare before us: What's really being done in the people's house is a far cry from the people's business.


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