A terror stalks the streets of Washington today the like of which has not been seen here since the War of 1812 when the British invaded the city and burned the White House.
Jack Abramoff---lobbyist, con man, swindler, keeper of Washington’s buried skeletons---is singing.
His opening number, performed in federal court last week, was a guilty plea to charges of influence peddling that could, and almost certainly will, ensnare some of the leading politicians of our fair capital. We’ll know more as he continues his recital in private to federal prosecutors, in hopes of getting 10 years or so knocked off his sentences.
The fear that grips the city right now is a function of Abramoff’s expertise, which is the transformation of money into power and vice versa. He was a leading soldier in that army of Washington lobbyists that takes money from corporations and doles it out to powerful politicians in return for governmental largesse---tax breaks, deregulation, contracts---worth many times the cost.
If he begins to give prosecutors names and addresses, money drops and amounts, there are going to be a whole lot of people seeking new employment in the next few years with some of them finding careers in license-plate manufacture.
It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.
The scurrying of the rats from the decks of the Good Ship Abramoff has already begun. Dennis Hastert, that tub of integrity who is the Speaker of the House (our House, alas), immediately announced he was donating all the money he has received from Abramoff’s clients to charity.
Our noble president also says he’s giving his Abramoff loot to charity, even though he has nothing to feel guilty about. What a guy.
Tom (Greasy Thumb) DeLay, former House Majority Leader and a close associate of Abramoff, eyes heavenward, urged “everyone involved to cooperate in the investigation and to tell the truth.” Then he gave his Abramoff money to charity.
Even Abramoff’s colleagues are treating him like a case of bird flu. The head of the American League of Lobbyists objected to Abramoff being referred to as a “superlobbyist,” as he sometimes is.
“Jack Abramoff is nothing more than a supercrook,” he said.
My, my, the lobbyists are insulted. I’m amazed. They have no shame; I didn’t think they had any pride either. Apparently, I was wrong. Now they say they’re worried about politicians shying away from “legitimate” contact with lobbyists. Fat chance.
But what’s wrong with a Congressperson avoiding lobbyists? Where is it written that our lawmakers, who make in excess of $160,000 a year, with more for the leadership, can’t pick up their own luncheon checks, pay for their own golfing vacations?
We have the spectacle of politicians coming to Washington owning hardly more than the clothes they wear, and leaving with whopping bank accounts, bulging stock portfolios and expensive country club memberships.
They call it “public service” for a reason. There is supposed to be a certain amount of personal sacrifice involved in serving one’s country, a gift a citizen makes to his society.
These guys treat Congress like Willy Loman’s brother treated Africa: “William, when I walked into the jungle, I was seventeen. When I walked out I was twenty-one. And, by God, I was rich!”
Then, when one of their bagmen gets caught with his hand in the till, they turn into Claude Raines, the police inspector in “Casablanca,” who, having been on the take for years, is “shocked---shocked!” to hear there is gambling in Casablanca.
Lobbying at its highest levels is little more than legalized bribery. It’s rotting the very core of our democracy. Admittedly, it has some informational function, but a lot of it is bad information. If we did away with it altogether, we’d gain more than we’d lose.
But first things first. As an FBI man said last week: “With most cases, the plea is the end, but with Abramoff, the plea is just the beginning.”
I can hardly wait.