Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Few Reflections on David Brooks' Profile of 'Sleazemasters'

David Brooks, conservative columnist and commentator, presents a devastating--and well-documented--portrait of people he identifies as sleazy lobbyists and activists, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and others. These "upstanding" spokespeople for "morality" are perfectly willing, says Brooks, to diverge from their principles, get in bed with murderers, thugs, and proponents of other unsavory acts in order to pocket cash. We're talking tens and tens of millions of dollars. Read this:

Back in 1995, when Republicans took over Congress, a new cadre of daring
and original thinkers arose. These bold innovators had a key insight: that you
no longer had to choose between being an activist and a lobbyist. You could be
both. You could harness the power of K Street to promote the goals of Goldwater,
Reagan and Gingrich. And best of all, you could get rich while doing it!

Before long, ringleader Grover Norquist and his buddies were signing
lobbying deals with the Seychelles and the Northern Mariana Islands and talking
up their interests at weekly conservative strategy sessions - what could be more
vital to the future of freedom than the commercial interests of these two fine

Before long, folks like Norquist and Abramoff were talking up the virtues
of international sons of liberty like Angola's Jonas Savimbi and Congo's
dictator Mobutu Sese Seko - all while receiving compensation from these
upstanding gentlemen, according to The Legal Times. Only a reactionary could
have been so discomfited by Savimbi's little cannibalism problem as to think
this was not a daring contribution to the cause of Reaganism.

Soon the creative revolutionaries were blending the high-toned forms of the
think tank with the low-toned scams of the buckraker. Ed Buckham, Tom DeLay's
former chief of staff, helped run the U.S. Family Network, which supported the
American family by accepting large donations and leasing skyboxes at the MCI
Center, according to Roll Call. Michael Scanlon, DeLay's former spokesman,
organized a think tank called the American International Center, located in a
house in Rehoboth Beach, Del., which was occupied, according to Andrew
Ferguson's devastating compendium in The Weekly Standard, by a former "lifeguard
of the year" and a former yoga instructor.

Ralph Reed, meanwhile, smashed the tired old categories that used to
separate social conservatives from corporate consultants. Reed signed on with
Channel One, Verizon, Enron and Microsoft to shore up the moral foundations of
our great nation. Reed so strongly opposes gambling as a matter of principle
that he bravely accepted $4 million through Abramoff from casino-rich Indian
tribes to gin up a grass-roots campaign.

As time went by, the spectacular devolution of morals accelerated.

Read Brooks' entire column here. (Registration required.)

A few observations:

(1) A person can become so accustomed to possessing and using power that he or she thinks they deserve it. Any power that comes our way is only ours on loan. People who corrupt our government and distort its policies for the sake of the almighty buck often get thoroughly corrupted even though they continue seeing themselves as people of moral rectitude.
This unfortunately, is what can happen to members of families, parties, or movements who've grown accustomed to being part of the "in" group.

(2) People who presume that the policies they advocate are morally right because they are morally right are a danger to the country. Even when such people slide down moral slopes to advocate policies at odds with their own morality, they likely can't see it, because they still see themselves as moral people. "What I'm lobbying for can't be wrong," they tell themselves, "because I'm lobbying for it."

This was precisely the attitude of the upright Woodrow Wilson who, while not personally corrupt, immolated all his good policies on the bonfire of sanctimony.

Everybody, repeat after me: "I might be wrong. I might be wrong. I might be wrong."

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," the Bible says. All is an inclusive term. It means everybody. When I begin with the assumption that I might be wrong, good things can happen. Pride, on the other hand--again as the Bible reminds--is the starting point of all falls from grace, power, and morality.

(3) Money is morally neutral. But it is the most powerful drug, the most alluring aphrodesiac, and the most attractive god on this planet. It's not for nothing that the New Testament says, "The love of money is the root of all evil."

Quaker theologian Richard Foster, in his book Money, Sex, and Power, says that we will either own our money or it will own us.

Sleazy operators no doubt feel very much in control because of all the millions they acquire through unprincipled political prostitution. But they come to be controlled by their cash. It's the tail wagging the dog.

There is nothing more pathetic than people who've enslaved themselves to one thing or another, nonetheless protesting how free they are. They're like Jesus' fellow Judeans, as recorded in a conversation in the Gospel of John (chapter 6) who, when Jesus offers them true freedom, protest that they've never been slaves to anyone, even though their whole history was one of enslavement to one empire after another, Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman.

UPDATE: I'm always humbled when the terrific Rob Asghar links posts from this web log on his. He has done so with this reflective piece here. Thank you, Rob! Make sure you check out the rest of Rob's blog. It's one of the best ones around!

ANOTHER UPDATE: We've been engaging in an interesting "comment button conversation" on this post at Rob Asghar's web site linked above. Check it out!

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