"This is the way the world ends," T. S. Eliot wrote, "not with a bang but a whimper."
And this may be the way the Republican revolution ends, not with some earthshaking ideological event, but with a snicker.
The snicker comes from Michael Scanlon, the business partner of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff who pleaded guilty in November to one count of conspiracy to corrupt public officials. Scanlon also happens to be a former press secretary to Rep. Tom DeLay. Abramoff has also pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion. Both are now cooperating with the federal probe into corruption on Capitol Hill.
Back in October 2001, when most of the nation was still grieving over the 9-11 attacks and most of Washington was focused on protecting the nation, Scanlon and Abramoff were busy enriching themselves by pitting the gambling interests of Indian tribes against one another in Louisiana and Texas.
Scanlon laid out the lobbyists' cynical strategy in an e-mail to his cohorts, made public in congressional hearings:
"Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information through the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet and telephone trees."
It wasn't the only snicker to come from the dynamic lobbying duo. Abramoff, in correspondence, chortled about their clients as monkeys, troglodytes and morons.
But the e-mail is the clearest indication of just how far a former aide of the former House majority leader, a former national chairman of the College Republicans and dozens of others around them with putatively conservative GOP pedigrees came unmoored from the principles that put Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1981 and brought Republican majorities to the House and Senate in 1995.
Anyone who thinks the Abramoff scandal is just another contrived effort to hurt the conservative cause and roll back Republican leadership needs to look at that e-mail again. The corrupt lobbyists who were leading this effort were counting on the gullibility of Christian conservatives and the ignorance of everyone else.
And as Newt Gingrich told Washington reporters, "You can't have a corrupt lobbyist without a corrupt member or a corrupt staffer on the other end."
Other than Abramoff and Scanlon, none of the figures implicated in the investigation has admitted to any wrongdoing, and federal prosecutors have not issued any indictments.
Aside from the legal issues, however, is the betrayal of principle.
"This year's election," read the Republican Contract with America in 1994, "offers the chance, after four decades of one-party control, to bring to the House a new majority that will transform the way Congress works."
Among the pledges made by Republican leaders, including then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay: Restore accountability to Congress, end its cycle of scandal and disgrace and guarantee an honest accounting of the federal budget.
Until recently, DeLay had the Contract with America posted on his congressional Web site among other "Great Documents of Freedom." Interestingly, the link no longer exists.
An exploding federal budget and the monumental growth of pork-barrel earmarks over the past 11 years provide ample evidence that the current Republican leadership hasn't lived up to its 1994 pledge. The ethical morass exemplified by DeLay's "K Street Project" to transform Washington's lobbying establishment into an instrument of Republican power provides another.
GOP uneasiness about the numerous and lengthy connections between the growing Abramoff scandal and DeLay's office compelled the Sugar Land representative to step aside permanently as majority leader. Republicans must do much more to restore their credibility and their commitment to principle.
If the Republican majority does not clean house, voters will surely cleanse Congress of a Republican majority and the Republican revolution will come to a whimpering end.