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THE MISS MANNERS OF POLITICS

Spring fever is taking a weird form this year. Politicians say nice things for political reasons and then revert with a vengeance -- a sort of political Tourette syndrome, as if they can't help what they say.

Tom DeLay, of all people, recently issued a fatwa on the need for good manners, a concept so bizarre there is no metaphor for it. It is itself a metaphor: " . . . as weird as the time Tom DeLay gave us all a lecture on manners."

In his new role as the Emily Post of politics, DeLay informed us, "It is unfortunate in our electoral system, exacerbated by our adversarial media culture, that political discourse has to get so overheated, that it's not just arguments, but motives are questioned." Did someone question his motive in taking an all-expenses-paid vacation from a lobbyist?

This would be the same Tom DeLay who said, "Screw the Senate," when he learned that Bob Dole had cut a deal with President Clinton to end the government shutdown caused by Newt Gingrich.

"We're in charge. We don't have to negotiate with the Senate." Same as above.

"We are ideologues. We have an agenda. We have a philosophy. I want to repeal the Clean Air Act," he said in 1995.

"This whole thing about not kicking someone when they are down is BS. Not only do you kick him -- you kick him until he passes out, then beat him over the head with a baseball bat, then roll him up in an old rug and throw him off a cliff into the pound(ing) surf below!!!!!" That gem was in a DeLay staff e-mail about Clinton's impeachment.

"I can't afford you as a brother anymore," DeLay to his brother and lawyer Randy after Randy's lobbying had embarrassed him.

And this truly spectacular outburst just a few weeks ago: "God has brought to us Terri Schiavo to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America. . . . This is exactly the issue that's going on in America of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others. The point is, the other side has figured out how to win and defeat the conservative movement, and that is to go after people personally, charge them with frivolous charges and link that up with all these do-gooder organizations funded by George Soros -- and then get the national media on their side.

"The whole syndicate that they have going on right now is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that's to destroy the conservative movement. It's to destroy the conservative leaders. . . . This is a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in." Whew.

According to the Associated Press, DeLay has urged the Republicans in Congress, when asked about his ethics problems, to blame Democrats. DeLay also said there is a "mammoth operation" funded by Democratic supporters designed to destroy him. People on the right just will not give up this eternal pretense of being victims.

DeLay's unlikely excursion into defining proper conduct came a few days after he had made a comment about the judges in the Schiavo case, which he repeatedly described as murder: "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." Some picky people thought there was an implied threat or encouragement to violence in that. Even DeLay had to admit he had expressed himself "inartfully."

But, happy to report, DeLay's new-found temperance did not last long. He just keynoted the convention of the National Rifle Association in Houston, where he cheerfully told the audience: "I feel really good. Because when a man is in trouble or in a good fight, you want to have your friends around, preferably armed."