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08.17.09

Top 10 Clues DeLay Was Born to Dance

What kind of competitor will the former House majority leader be on Dancing With the Stars? The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove thumbs through DeLay’s memoir and picks the top 10 clues—from his early Fish Dance to his hot-tub escapades.

Xtra Insight: Plus, watch the 11 most awkward Dancing stars

What a long, strange trip it’s been from Hammer of the Capitol to Lord of the Dance. But there’s a certain Warhol-esque inevitability about it: Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay—whose methods of persuasion in Congress earned him the nickname “The Hammer”—is headlining the upcoming season of Dancing With the Stars.

Though he is (barring a sudden and miraculous transformation) short and portly, with an icy smile stained by chewing tobacco, DeLay’s rival dancers will underestimate him at their peril.

The 62-year-old DeLay, who was forced out of office in 2005 amid the Jack Abramoff scandal—after a Texas grand jury indicted him for alleged campaign-law violations, a case that has yet to come to trial—is known less for twinkle-toed grace than brutish ferocity. “We are all flawed,” he once acknowledged, “and my flaw is that I can sometimes be aggressive, even mean.”

Though he is (barring a sudden and miraculous transformation) short and portly, with an icy smile stained by chewing tobacco, DeLay’s rival dancers will underestimate him at their peril. What kind of competitor will he be? Here, in his own words—from his 2007 memoir, No Retreat, No Surrender: One American’s Fight—are the top 10 clues:

*Veteran Artiste: “On one occasion [when Tom was 8 years old, after his oil-drilling father moved the family from Texas to Venezuela] I led a traditional dance that the children put on for the adults. It was known as the Fish Dance, and for some reason that I can’t recall, I was chosen to be the fish. My mother made a dramatic blue costume, complete with wildly flipping fins, and at the appropriate time children dressed as bears, monkeys, dogs, and lizards danced in a big circle with me, the fish, in the middle. Everyone cheered for ‘ Pesca Tommy.’ I have often been thankful there were no pictures of the event for my political opponents to use against me.”

*Riveting Raconteur: “The local politicians had been murdered and then mounted for all to see. It got worse, though. The bodies hung there for weeks, reeking and swelling grotesquely in the equatorial heat. For fear of reprisals, no one cut them down. Finally, the bugs and birds having done their worst, the bodies just pulled apart and fell to the street below. Though I did not realize it at the time, this was the first in a series of ominous moments that would ultimately lead us out of Venezuela.”

*Incurable Romantic: “I was smitten. The moment I will never forget came one day at school behind a pink oleander bush during recess. The sun was out, the birds were chirping, and the blossoms were in full bloom. It felt right. I decided Catherine and I should take our relationship ‘to the next level.’ I made my move. I wrapped my arm around her lovely shoulder and pulled her close. She moved, though, and instead of what were surely sweet lips pressed to mine became instead an oleander branch to my eye.”

*Bold Trendsetter: “My claim to fame in those days was my involvement in a junior-high gang called—get ready for this one—‘The Broken Pistons.’ We tried to be Fonzi-style cool, but the fact is that all the members of this gang were dorks just like me. For all my posing I made straight As, had a mouth full of braces, and played the coronet and the flugelhorn in the school band. There was absolutely nothing cool about me.”

*Independent Spirit: “Some of us had relationships with our parents that were so neutral or distant that we were virtually left alone. This is where I land, and when I say, as I often do, that I raised myself, I mean it without pride or anger. The fact is that my parents were so busy, distracted, or focused on their own demons that I was left to learn the ways of the world on my own.”

*Repressed Rebel: “I went out and joined the Esquires, a fringe social club that would have been a fraternity except that fraternities weren’t allowed at Baylor. These Baptists were too strict to permit such things. There was even a joke about it: Baptists didn’t believe in premarital sex because it might lead to dancing.”

*Diligent Student: “Once I determine my goals, I orchestrate the hours of my day to achieve them. I spend my day getting better at whatever skills I need to achieve them. This requires the fine art of self-education. I take a long look at the mechanisms in place—in politics, pest control, or life in general—and then I read and ask questions until I know the details of the process. Once I master the process I feel comfortable not only working it but changing it if need be.”

*Rueful Roué: “When my third session [in the Texas House] came around I roomed with my best friend, Gerry Geistweidt. We rented an apartment that had an old, shoddy hot tub. We dubbed our new place Hot Tub Haven, more as a joke than as a reality. Years later Beverly Carter of the Fort Bend Star picked up on the name Hot Tub Haven and began dubbing me Hot Tub Tom in her articles. The name stuck and came to symbolize all my excesses. I certainly deserved it. I drank too much. I slept with women I wasn’t married to. I neglected my family. This is the truth, and I recount it with a deep sense of grief that I ever lived in such a manner.”

*Principled Paragon: “The fact is that golf is a game of character, and you can tell who a man really is by how he plays. [Bill] Clinton was a famous cheater on the course as he was in life, and everyone close to him knew it…Though I believe homosexuality is a perverse lifestyle and a sin before God, I have worked with a number of gay congressmen…who were competent and effective…I should say here that I completely supported Donald Rumsfeld’s approach to the war when he was secretary of defense….[T]he country was lucky to have him in office, as was Bush, whether he knew it or not.”

Flexible Flyer: “Though I believed deeply in traditional values and defended them politically, I had abandoned traditional values as a guide to my personal conduct and ethics.”

As for DeLay’s debut on prime-time network television, you can tell who a man really is by how he dances. And, for my money, he clearly has the quality that can take him straight to the top.

Lloyd Grove is Editor at Large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.