What do an Orthodox Jew nicknamed "Casino Jack," a former Texas exterminator nicknamed "The Hammer," and a small-town boy from Georgia nicknamed "Choir Boy" (nah, I made that up) have in common? A lot it appears and most of it revolves not around the Lord and his glorious ways, but around–Holy Mother of Mammon… dollar signs.
All of them got religion and right wing politics on their way to figuring out ever more creative ways of fleecing their lobbying clients out of millions in return for precious little work (in the case of Abramoff and Reed) or snowing their constituents (in the case of DeLay) into believing he’s a righteous, straight-arrow altar boy from Texas.
For those of you who may understandably not be following this story closely, the real connection between these three yahoos is that they’ve dipped their snouts in the trough of never-ending largesse from Indian gaming tribes who contribute tens of millions in lobbying fees in order to get a cooperative legislative "climate" for their interests.
Portrait of the lobbyist as a big fat-cat
(credit: Thomas Butler/The Hill)
In the old days, young people used to set their sites on Washington, DC and a career in public service out of a sense of duty or high moral purpose. In the case of these three, what high moral purpose they may’ve had at one time (if there ever was any) was stripped away long ago by the lure of all that cash. Take the case of Jack Abramoff, who began his career in, of all places–Hollywood!
[He] rode a Republican wave into Washington in 1994. Within weeks of midterm elections that gave the GOP control of the House, he left Hollywood, where in 1989 he had produced "Red Scorpion," an action-thriller about anti-communist guerrillas, to become a Capitol Hill lobbyist.
He was politically conservative, a former president of the College Republican National Committee from 1981 to 1985, and had close ties to the new congressional leadership, including DeLay.
–posted by The Forward’s E.J. Kessler and sourced to the Los Angeles Times
Scouring the web for good background information on Abramoff (I was especially looking into his Jewish background), I found a terrific background piece in Texas Monthly about the entire scandal with profiles of the key players including Abramoff. It’s eye-opening and nauseating at the same time. And for a satirical look at Jack, check out Jack in the House (thanks to On Background for the link).
In my opinion, no one in the media (and this includes The Forward) has done a comprehensive piece about Abramoff’s Jewish background. You get bits and pieces here and there, but this an important enough story to deserve better coverage.
The Texas Observer tells us that Abramoff grew up in Beverly Hills attending Beverly Hills High School. He attended Brandeis University and then left for law school at Georgetown. While there, he became involved with the same National College Young Republican group which launched the hatchet job career of Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed and other right wing stars. After law school, he returned to Los Angeles and became president of Regency Entertainment, which produces "right wing" shoot ’em up type films.
Two weeks after the 1994 election that brought Newt Gingrich and a Republican "Revolution" to power Abramoff had packed his bags. Abramoff already knew DeLay very well and he sensed that fame and fortune lay Washington-way. In Washington, Abramoff founded a private school, the Eshkol Academy which he envisioned as a "cross between a yeshiva and a prep school." He also founded two Washington kosher restaurants (the only two), one a deli and the other offering haute cuisine (both closed a month after his law firm fired him and his Indian clients left him high and dry).
DeLay and Abramoff together conceived the idea of a political alliance of convenience between Israel and the Christian evangelical movement. So Christian Zionism was born. Now, we have Tom DeLay engineering a counter-Mideast policy within the halls of Congress that is based on theology and zealotry, rather than hard political reality (which is, one hopes, what the Administration’s actual Mideast policy is based on). What I’d like to know is why the evangelicals don’t rip a page out of Herzl and start lobbying for their own homeland. Oh, that’s heaven you say? Or is it perhaps the Land of Israel after the Apocalypse?
After reading the above paragraph, The Forward’s story about right-wing pro-Israel groups like the Zionist Organization of America leaping to DeLay’s defense makes perfect sense. Why else would hard-line Jewish groups have any interest whatsoever in the political career of a good ‘ol born-again boy from Texas?
I find it absolutely delicious that the scandal is enveloping three of the most unsavory right-wing ideologues in this country today. I’m most surprised by Reed’s involvement in this thing. He always struck me as an exceedingly shrewd, exceedingly calculating and exceedingly cunning operative. How he got his hand stuck in this cookie jar is a story worth telling–and the New York Times has done so. Will it be enough to derail Reed’s political ambitions as he runs for Georgia Lt. Governor? We can only hope.