As the lies and subterfuge of the go-go 1990's coalesced around sex, so the scandal of our new "moral values" decade comes cloaked in religion. The hair shirt is the new thong.
This time the plot begins with money. Two K Street fixers, a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff and a flack named Michael Scanlon, managed to snooker six American Indian tribes into handing over $82 million in exchange for furthering their casino interests. According to The Washington Post, some of their tribal takings, cycled through a nonprofit center for "public policy research," helped send Mr. DeLay golfing in Scotland. The pious congressman, a gambling foe, says he had no idea of his trip's sinful provenance. Never mind that Mr. DeLay was joined abroad by Mr. Abramoff, whom he has described as one of his "closest and dearest friends," or that Mr. Scanlon had once been his spokesman. Mr. DeLay was as innocent of the goings-on around him as a piano player in a brothel.
Beltway cronyism, dubious junkets, loophole-laden denials are all, of course, time-honored Washington fare. The few on the right backing away from Mr. DeLay, from The Wall Street Journal's editorial page to Newt Gingrich, make a point of reminding us of that. As they see it, more in sorrow than in anger, the Gingrich revolutionaries who vowed to end the corruption practiced by Congressional Democrats have now been infected by the same Washington virus as their opponents. That's true, but this critique of Mr. DeLay and company by their own camp all too conveniently sidesteps the distinguishing feature of this scandal. Democratic malefactors like Jim Wright and L.B.J.'s old fixer Bobby Baker didn't wear the Bible on their sleeves.
In the DeLay story almost every player has ostentatious religious trappings, starting with the House majority leader himself. His efforts to play God with Terri Schiavo were preceded by crusades like blaming the teaching of evolution for school shootings and raising money for the Traditional Values Coalition's campaign to save America from the "war on Christianity." Mr. DeLay's chief of staff was his pastor, and, according to Time magazine, organized daily prayer sessions in their office. Today this holy man, Ed Buckham, is a lobbyist implicated in another DeLay junket to South Korea.
But it's not merely Christian denominations that figure in the religious plumage of this crowd. Mr. Abramoff, who is now being investigated by nearly as many federal agencies as there are nights of Passover, is an Orthodox Jew who in his salad days wore a yarmulke to press interviews. In Washington, he opened not one but two kosher restaurants (I hear the deli was passable by D.C. standards) and started a yeshiva. His uncompromising piety drove him to condemn the one Orthodox Jew in the Senate, Joe Lieberman, for securing "the tortuous death of millions" by supporting abortion rights.
As William Blake noted so well, "Prisons are built with the Stones of Law, Brothels with the Bricks of Religion."
Some might think that this is a mere "cackling at the hypocrites" type of phenomenon, this criticism of Delay, FRC, Frist, etc. but its not.
Much as they are loath to go near the thought, there is a very good reason these scandals are intimately related with these people.
When one puts much effort into appearing righteous, one is often short of time and resources to actually be righteous.
Frank Rich should be commended for disseminating this information.