Update: Delay has given up his leadership position.
I somehow missed the Post’s style column on Jack Abramoff until the hubby pointed it out to me yesterday. (When you follow a few hundred blog and news feeds every day, stuff slips by.) And while I enjoyed the skewering of Abramoff’s fashion choices, it was this passage that rang a bell with me and brought to mind some other pieces of news I read yesterday.
Over the course of the Justice Department’s investigation of Abramoff, much has been reported about his fascination with quot;The Godfather," his self-proclaimed religious reawakening sparked by "Fiddler on the Roof," and his personal dabbling in moviemaking. It’s hard not to connect his jarring costume choices this week with those Hollywood touchstones.
There has been some discussion around offices and on the Internet that Abramoff, in his time of stress, has drawn more closely to his faith. Because he is a practicing Orthodox Jew, some have suggested that his black attire and his hat are a reflection of religiosity, and not a homage to Don Vito Corleone. It is
true that those who are facing prison time — and Abramoff’s plea deal suggests he will get 9 1/2 to 11 years — often draw closer to their Creator. So it may be that the Almighty was on Abramoff’s mind.
I’m sure Abramoff’s religious beliefs have been reported in the news before, and I’ve probably read about them before, but this time it reminded me of a two other people — conservatives who make a big public deal about their faith and have ties to Abramoff. In fact, their in the same kind of trouble as Abramoff and might go down right along with him. What’s interesting is that the faithful — who share the politics and faith these men profess — seem to be washing their hands of them.
Tom DeLay’s legal troubles are no big secret, and the ongoing saga is almost a non-story as it drags out well past the attention span capacity of many Americans (myself included). But yesterday there came news that Republicans have started the formal process to replace DeLay as majority leader. Roll Call has the story, brought to us non-subscribers by Fired Up! America.
A small group of mostly moderate House Republican lawmakers will circulate a petition this afternoon calling for new leadership elections to be held when the chamber returns for the second session of the 109th Congress, marking the formal start of the process for potentially choosing a permanent Majority Leader to replace indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
The "Dear Colleague" letter, which is being spearheaded by centrist Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.) and conservative Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), will be sent later today to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio.).
However, this movement isn’t coming entirely from the moderates. Jeff Flake is one of the folks from the Club for Growth, as well as the Republican Study Committee. These folks are described as "well to the right of DeLay."
Republican Study Committee: They’ve been affectionately referred to as the “Wingnut Caucus,” representing the ultra-conservative wing of a party already well out of the mainstream in terms of policy. They were the ones who crammed through cuts to Medicaid, student loans, and other social programs even as they demanded further tax cuts for the wealthy. If they take the healm, not only will the party be vulnerable to charges of ideological extremism, they will likely push an agenda that will put so-called “moderates” in the hot seat day after day in a way
they can hardly afford.
In other words, if these folks take power, everything that’s come to pass in this era of one-party rule may prove to be just the warm-up act. But as interesting as DeLay’s developing trouble are, it’s not this bit of news that got me thinking about the thread running through his story and Abramoff’s. It was Ralph Reed’s recent, and related, problems.
A word about me and Ralph. There’s a connection between us. (No not that kind of connection, people. Though if there were *shudder*, I would have run to the tabloids with it a long time ago. Ralph and I have the same alma mater, though he graduated years before I arrived, and we belonged to the same debate society; again, years apart. (Ralph, of course, has earned a spot on the list of famous alumni. It was through the society that our paths crossed, as Ralph returned for the one year during my time there, for the society’s anniversary and "All Night Meeting" (12 hour of extemporaneous debate and merry-making).
At that point, I was in full "flamer" mode, and spent most of the evening swishing around smoking herbal cigarettes with a foot-long cigarette holder. Ralph and I never talked and only encountered each other in passing a few times, but I’m pretty sure he was appalled. Years later I moved to D.C., where Ralph was running the Christian Coalition, but we never encountered each other again. Such was my brief brush with political power, surpassed only by running into a sweaty Al Gore on the campaign trail in ’92, and shaking hands with Clinton during his pre-impeachment period.
So, fast forward to years later. I’m running a blog and Ralph is running for Lt. Governor of Georgia. Given the rampant conservatism in the state, I’d expect him to be doing well, but it looks like he’s not. Right now he’s losing to a political unknown, and his ties to Abramoff are the cause. It’s been a while since I’ve lived in Georgia, but as I recall many Georgians share a deep and earnest religious faith. The key word is "earnest." And I doubt very much that religious faith among Georgians has lessened since I lived in the state. If anything, it’s grown even stronger if the state’s increasing conservatism is any indication.
So, I’d probably expand on Joe Conason’s remarks a little.
Rarely has the contrast between the rhetoric of the religious right and the behavior of its leaders been so starkly exposed as in the Abramoff scandal. The most obvious example was the manipulation of Christian activists in Louisiana and Texas by Reed, former executive
director of the Christian Coalition, who said he was helping them fight gambling when he was actually using them to promote Indian casinos (and to make a few million bucks for himself).
That episode alone should have alerted honest Christians to the moral rot within the Republican leadership that professed to represent their interests.
I think signs indicate that the honest christians Conason speaks of might have been slow to catch on, but they’ve got the message now and may be deciding to let Abramoff, DeLay, Reed, etc., dangle in the wind. James Dobson’s recent quote seems to indicate just that. (Though I wouldn’t put Dobson in the category of "honest" anything.)
The recent scandals roiling around men who have made careers out of publicly exploiting their claimed faith at every opportunity, I think, lays bare the limitations of the politics of perception so masterfully practiced by Karl Rove (who may yet weather his own scandal). However much I may be concerned about the political aims of conservative christians and groups like the Club for Growth or the Republican Study Committee, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on one thing. What they believe, they believe earnestly, and value principles above perceptions and personalities. At least some of them do. When shown clear evidence of corruption, many recoil. Some revolt. I think that’s what’s happening with DeLay and Reed in particular.
The question remains what this means in the big picture. Replacing DeLay with even more conservative leadership might put moderate House Republicans in the hot seat this year, in the run-up to congressional elections. If that potential new leadership legislates "well to the right of DeLay," they may alienate moderate conservatives and a considerable portion of the electorate along with them. That could only help the Democrats, particularly if they’re smart enough to run on the ethics issue in ’06.
With the faithful in flight and Abramoff, DeLay and Reed in apparent freefall, it may be the end for them. It may also be the beginning of something else, but it’s too soon to tell just what.