Like fortunetellers staring into the dregs of a teacup, Washington reporters often find meaning in what others would see only as unwashed china. Sometimes the subtleties work (the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank is a consistent master), and sometimes they don’t.

Today’s prize for drawing meaning out of the obscure lies buried far down in a profile by USA Today reporters Kathy Kiely and Jim Drinkard of embattled House majority leader Tom DeLay.

The lengthy story recounts DeLay’s rise to power and the control he continues to exercise over his House colleagues, despite a long history of ethics problems and political incorrectness.

Despite ongoing investigations of his political activities in Texas, as well as federal probes of two former associates, the man known on Capitol Hill as “the Hammer” is undaunted, write Kiely and Drinkard. DeLay may even have his sights set on the top House job, the one currently held by Speaker Dennis Hastert.

And how do the soothsayers at USA Today discern this?

Besides being more outspoken on issues, [DeLay] has exchanged his slicked-down hairstyle for a softer cut and had the gap in his teeth fixed.

Clearly, the indicators of a politician on the move.

Susan Q. Stranahan

Susan Q. Stranahan wrote for CJR.