Commentary: In praise of Tom DeLay's dance moves

The Miami HeraldSeptember 29, 2009 

"Do you love me, now that I can dance?" — The Contours, 1962

Well, no.

Love is hardly the first word that comes to mind when one considers Tom DeLay, the former House Majority leader who threatened judges and otherwise trampled the constitutional separation of powers during the Terri Schiavo affair, who once likened the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo, who said in the wake of the Columbine massacre that guns have "little or nothing" to do with juvenile violence, who fought to make this country a fundamentalist Christian theocracy, and who left Congress in 2006 under scandal clouds and criminal indictment.

And indeed, very little love is evident in the comments that have attended DeLay's stint as a contestant on the new season of Dancing With The Stars, the ABC television competition that pairs professional hoofers with "stars" (that term being very loosely interpreted) who strut, shake and shimmy their way through various feats of Terpsichore.

Gail Collins of The New York Times compared him to "your crusty Uncle Fred" who "got drunk at your graduation party and tried to sing My Way." Jon Stewart pronounced his performance fatally gay (not that there's anything wrong with that). And a viewer speculated on an ABC message board that the show must've invited DeLay only because Bernie Madoff was not available.

But you know what? I can't hate on the guy. I'd love to, but I can't.

In the first place, DeLay's debut performance last week — he danced to the old frat party standard, Wild Thing — was alarmingly un-terrible. If, that is, you discount the unfortunate moment where the camera zeroed in as he gave his backside a rather emphatic wiggle. The sight of Tom DeLay shaking his booty was profoundly disturbing on so many levels that I momentarily considered taking an ice cream scoop to my eyeballs. But other than that, he was stunningly not-awful.

The other reason I can't pile up on DeLay is that it would be the height of hypocrisy. I have seldom spoken of this in so public a forum, but you see, your correspondent is one of many Americans afflicted with a crippling disease.

I have Rhythm Impairment, compounded by a bad case of Granite Hips. This is also known as Elaine Benes Syndrome, after the Seinfeld episode where Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character did a dance that was likened to "a full body dry heave set to music." I am to dancing what Roseanne is to singing and Donald Duck to motivational speeches. I am as graceful as a refrigerator falling down a flight of stairs.

Some years ago, I confessed all this while speaking before a room full of elementary school kids. They responded with the tender compassion that is unique to children, chanting "Dance! Dance! Dance!" in a mounting tone of command. I felt not unlike a man standing on a high ledge with the crowd below yelling, "Jump! Jump! Jump!"

A braver man would have at least tried to bust a move. Me, I waited them out, then went back to my Career Day presentation.

So who am I to make fun of Tom DeLay, this archest of conservatives throwing his body around a dance floor with liberal abandon? I couldn't do what he's doing if you put a gun to a puppy's head, if you promised it would bring world peace, if you gave me Taraji P. Henson's phone number scribbled on the back of a billion dollar bill.

He is, yes, as forward-thinking as a tyrannosaur — and about as warm and cuddly. But in shaking his 62-year-old backside before an audience of millions, Tom DeLay struck a blow for every Elaine Benes that ever was, one that made you want to stand and shout, "Yes I can!" As one of the rhythmically impaired, I'm here to tell you: It was a brave and inspiring sight.

And I hope to Heaven I never see it again.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at Ask Leonard.

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