Abramoff Agonistes

Here’s how David Klinghoffer ends his latest column in the Jewish weekly The Forward:

If [Jack] Abramoff were a secular Jew who directed streams of money to left-wing candidates, to liberal think tanks, to charitable causes like Planned Parenthood and PETA, do you think we ever would have heard his name? I don’t.

The whole piece is about as good a defense as one can mount of the super-lobbyist who now finds himself in heap of big trouble over a scandal that involves Indian gambling, paid junkets for congressmen, an anti-gambling campaign that Abramoff also had a hand in, and a host of other misadventures.

Klinghoffer admits that Abramoff probably breached Congress’ ethics rules by funding some activities out of his own pocket and seeking reimbursement from organizations that he represented (verboten) rather than having the organizations fund the junkets and such directly (allowed), but he doesn’t concede that this is anything more than a very technical violation of statute designed to have no teeth.

He also admits that Abramoff said some remarkably stupid and bigoted things in private e-mails, but he asks, “Yet who among us would not be humiliated if a decade’s worth of our email were leaked by Senate investigators to be dissected by journalists eager to carve us up like a Thanksgiving roast?”

Klinghoffer quotes a “close friend and ally” of Abramoff as saying, “Jack is not a choir boy. It’s funny, though, that there are no Ferraris, women, yachts or mansions in this story, and yet it keeps going.” He expounds on the friend’s commentary: “Why it keeps going is a question worth pondering.”

The charge that the Forward columnist levels isn’t anti-Semitism so much as anti-Republicanism and a general distaste by the usual suspects for people who take religion seriously. Frank Rich, for instance, described him as an “Orthodox Jew who in his salad days wore a yarmulke to press interviews.” A columnist identified only as a “Washington Post writer with a Jewish name” (Nexis says . . . Ruth Marcus) called Abramoff “an Orthodox Jew who seemed to flaunt his piety (the Christian right loved it) the way other lobbyists flash their Rolexes.”

One of the problems with “if the situation were slightly different, do you think people would still be going nuts” criticism is that it is often hard to predict exactly what will catch people’s fancy. The criteria for what makes a story a hot issue are not completely random, but I think I’d lose my shirt if I had to predict what the pack of American journalists will decide to obsess on next week. Still, Klinghoffer raises some important questions that are worth chewing on for a bit.

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  • Dan Crawford

    I’d feel a lot more comfortable about Mr. A if evidence were cited to support his “innocence”. The difficulty, of course, is that there doesn’t seem to be any.

  • Jeremy Lott

    Guilty until proven innocent. Gotcha.

    All kidding aside, I think Klinghoffer has taken up the most persuasive line of defense one can mount. That is, he says that if Abromoff broke a law, he did so by violating a statute that Congress never meant to enforce.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    What a spinner – Klinghoffer says that Abramoff is accused of “overcharging” Indian “moguls”. That’s a bit more palatable than misdirecting donations to an inner-city charity to an illegal West Bank settlement, as Newsweek reported. I think that last paragraph is actually quite feeble – Abramoff ought to be given a free pass because we can imagine a secular lefty Jew not being so scrutinised by the media.

    And what’s with the headline – “An Attempt to Arrest Our Alliance with Evangelicals”? That’s just conspiracy-mongering.

  • David Fischler

    Actually, I doubt that Jeremy is suggesting that Abramoff should be getting a free pass. But the media’s obsession with the Tom DeLay/Jack Abramoff connection is a bit unseemly in light of the dearth of news from the trial of David Rosen, Hillary Clinton’s finance director for her 2000 Senate campaign. Put “Hillary Clinton” + “David Rosen” together in a Google search, and the only major news outlets that come up are CNN and the LA Times (and that’s with a trial having started in LA this week, so the Times is covering it as local news). Put in “Tom DeLay” and “Jack Abramoff” and you get CNN, Time, Washington Post, MSNBC, The New Republic, Houston Chronicle, CBS News, Molly Ivins, Frank Rich, etc. As to the why of that disparity, I suspect it’s mostly about DeLay being a very effective conservative Republican legislator more than anything else.

  • Stephen A.

    Yes, David, this is more evidence that a double standard in coverage exists in the national mainstream media.

  • http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/ Bartholomew

    Well, of course since DeLay is so effective – and more powerful than Hilary Clinton – he’s going to come under particular scrutiny.

    Besides, even if the Rosen accusations are proven, that’s just an ordinary (and old) story of campaign corruption; the DeLay/Abramoff affair is much more interesting, and goes far beyond the narrow legal issue raised by Klinghoffer: charity cash redirected to an illegal West Bank settlement; the defence of sweatshops in Saipan; the Malaysia angle.

    Plus if the conservative media is free of the “double standard” that so afflicts the MSM, why is there such reluctance to look at DeLay critically?

  • Harris

    The argument that it’s ok because the other side (if it did it) would get off, is more than just a little convenient. For a Christian, and especially for conservative Christians who have inveighed against moral laxity, such a position of excusing sin would appear to render claims to moral authority moot.

    Moreover, if there is such a thing as a Christian approach to politics, one that actually bars behavior that is nominally legal, certainly it must ask whether such adventures as Mr Abramoff’s really pass the smell test. It is the failure of Religious Right to submit their own side scrutiny and standards that is the scandal here. The all too real danger is that Evangelicals will get tarred with a moral laxity (or should we say, “flexibility”) in their politics.

    No, for people of faith, the question is not that of hypocrisy of the other side, but the standards that will be adhered to.