ANDREW SULLIVAN: NOT A JEW (AFTER ABRAMOFF, WHAT’D WE DO?)

Andrew Sullivan probably expected to turn heads with the first paragraph of this TNR piece on the Foley fallout. But perhaps the weirdest sentence is in the second one:

Gay men, of course, went into a defensive crouch. Like Jews watching the Abramoff scandal, we winced at what we knew would be a collective blame-game.

Say what?

I’m all for a good simile. But actual Jews did watch the actual Abramoff scandal, and not only wasn’t there a “collective blame-game” targeting Jews, “we” didn’t brace ourselves for one either. Did we?

Look, I’ll be the first to acknowledge I’ve spent most of my life in parts of the US with disproportionately little antisemitism (maybe excepting the time Sean Hannity’s niece told me Yale “is basically all Jews at this point, right?”). But the idea that Jews as a community saw Jack Abramoff in the news and started worrying about an antisemitic surge is just spurious.

Sure, Abramoff embodies certain hateful stereotypes about Jews, and Foley embodies certain hateful stereotypes about gay men. But the difference is that blatant antisemitism marginalizes you in American public life. Blatant homophobia doesn’t.

I’m sure you could have heard one Jew crouching somewhere over Abramoff in the news. After Jim McGreevey came out and resigned, I remember a few folks I knew worrying that a story about a governor having a same-sex affair with an Israeli would enflame antisemitism across the country. Those were the same ones who got ganza shpilkes whenever a new article came out about the New Jersey Rabbi charged with homicide. But everyone else – Jews included – saw it as a story about closeted married men, corrupt New Jersey politicos, or both.

Consider the press releases put out by major organs of the conservative movement blaming homosexuality for the Foley fracas. Now try to picture such groups putting out a press release blaming Judaism for the Abramoff scandal.

The leaders in the conservative coalition who feel that way do a better job hiding their antisemitism.

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ABRA-MATHON

On today’s YDN opinion page, Eli Luberoff writes a letter responding to the statement in my Tuesday column that

While Abramoff made strategic donations to members of both parties, it was Republicans with whom he collaborated to break the law and the trust of the American people.

Eli agrees with the second part of the sentence, but he disputes the first part – that Abramoff made “strategic donations to members of both parties.” In retrospect, my wording was needlessly imprecise. Literally, Abramoff did make “strategic donations to member of both parties,” in that he made in-kind donations to Democrats as well as Republicans. More important, though, are the donations Abramoff directed through his clients to Democrats as well as Republicans, which were more substantial. Better wording here would have more clearly encompassed those contributions, which while heavily skewed towards Republicans, didn’t go exclusively to them. But as my column made clear, I agree with Eli that this is a Republican scandal through and through.

My Tuesday piece also comes up in Roger Low’s column today. Roger notes that Democrats do corrupt things sometimes too, which I think we can all acknowledge without losing sight of the underlying ideological edge of the Abramoff scandal: this is a story about concentrated economic power trumping popular majorities in setting policy and distributing resources. Roger rightfully calls the Democrats on their failure to champion a more aggressive reform agenda, and then veers off into an encomium to John McCain, who – besides being a staunch conservative except for his opposition to torture, global warming, and soft money (talk about defining deviancy down) – hasn’t championed any of those reforms either.

ABRAMOFF PLEADS GUILTY

Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty today to charges of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion under a plea bargain which limits him to ten years in prison. TPM and TPMCafe are Abramoff central today – check out the insight and speculation over there. As Josh observes:

This seems more like the beginning of a long process. They go after Ney first and continue their investigation, with Abramoff’s fate hanging in the balance, depending on how cooperative he chooses to be in providing information on coconspirators and sundry bad acts.

Abramoff is a bad, bad man (more on this from me here, here, and here) who did bad things not – as talking heads will tell you tomorrow – out of simple personal greed but as a devoted cog in a fundamentally corrupt corporate-GOP alliance which continues to wreak havoc on the country. So taking away his toys and using his testimony to go after his proven accomplices is a step – but only a step – in restoring honor and integrity to government.

Max Sawicky offered a sobering reminder that even if we’re facing a “Watergate moment,” Watergate itself, and the Democrats’ response, failed to stem the rising conservative tide in this country:

Watergate ushered in a generation of Democratic politicians with little in the way of ideological commitment other than honesty. Not long after Watergate we got the Reagan revolution. Honesty is not enough.

In response, Josh argued that

the country was in the midst of a broad shift toward the right. The scandals surrounding Watergate upended the political dynamic in the country but not the ideological one…the other side’s scandals can reshuffle the political cards temporarily. But it probably won’t be for that long if the scandals aren’t intrinsically connected to the bases of the afflicted party’s power or if their fall-out doesn’t catalyze a some deeper political and ideological reconfiguration in the country. Nixon’s dirty-tricksterism wasn’t at the heart of the rise of the American right in the late 20th century. So it continued on without him.

Thing is, whether you buy Max’s argument that the attention to Watergate ultimately hastened the rise of Reaganism or Josh’s that it merely failed to do more than slow it, I think the key point going forward is that it’s not just the facts on the ground that determine whether the scandals now inundating the White House are understood as “intrinsically connected to the bases of the afflicted party’s power.” Conservatives, with many in the media in tow, aren’t just trying to obscure the partisan nature of the current scandal crop – they’re trying to obscure the ideological nature of it. That’s because they recognize that this is about more than just the 2006 elections, important as they are – it’s about public understandings of what kind of people are fit to lead the country. So it’s on progressives to expose not just the partisan narrative behind these scandals but the ideological one as well:

Republicans take bribes from men like Jack Abramoff because they are the party of big business, and they represent wealthy elites pushing policies that hurt working families.

Republicans lie about what their intelligence says and how they get it because they need to justify immoral wars that make us less safe and obscure their attacks on our privacy that leave us less free.

Needless to say, these talking points will not win any points from Al From, Chris Matthews, or Joe Klein. But if it’s elections you care about, each of these men only gets one vote. And if it’s ideological realignment you care about, they may get even less.

THE WEEK IN, UM, ME

Just got back tonight from a great week in Cali with the mishpuchah. Turns out that jellyfish aren’t fish, there were no birds at Alcatraz, and “Half Dome” isn’t particularly dome-like (though it is particularly awesome).

“But enough about your vacation,” you say, “how about your sprawling media empire?” Funny you should ask.

Just kidding.

Absence of a sprawling media empire notwithstanding, I am happy to report that Josh Marshall, in a valiant effort to give me something to do this summer that (unlike learning to drive and speak Spanish) doesn’t fall under the category of “Finally getting around to what everyone else did in high school,” generously asked me last month to be a Research Fellow over at TPMCafe. I’ve been working with a great group of folks over there on the Auction House, our attempt to keep up with the many-splendored series of scandals surrounding The Hammer and his tools. It’s been a blast so far, and I’m sure will continue to be. My first Auction House post, a look at DeLay and Abramoff’s sketchiest mutual friends, went up last week. Think of it as (with pretty insincere apologies to fellow Akiba Hebrew Academy alum Mitch Albom) Six People You Don’t Meet in Heaven. Check it out.

WE KNOW TOM DELAY

Yesterday’s Houston Chronicle names my family’s home district, Pennsylvania’s sixth, as the nation’s top swing district for the 2006 elections. The article previews the strategy rightly being pushed by Howard Dean and others (with too little support from Congressional Democrats) to nationalize these elections as referenda on the corrupt record of Tom DeLay and his enablers, like our Congressman Jim Gerlach. Gerlach’s response?

Gerlach said the Texan’s ethics controversies would have little impact in the district, saying that most voters here “don’t know who Tom DeLay is.”

Unfortunately for Gerlach, a great and growing number of us know all too well who Tom DeLay is. We know Tom DeLay violated House Ethics Rules by taking a vacation in Moscow paid for by a front group for Russian government lobbyists and claiming it was funded by a non-profit in DC. We know Tom DeLay broke the same law on a trip to South Korea paid for by lobbyists for that government. We know Tom DeLay’s PAC is under investigation for illegally funneling cash from big business. And we know that each of Tom DeLay’s scandals stems from his close working relationship with embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose theft of millions of dollars from Native American tribes John McCain called “simply and sadly a tale of betrayal.” We also know that Jim Gerlach, who claims to be an independent representative of the people of Pennsylvania’s sixth district, voted repeatedly to weaken ethics rules on Tom DeLay’s behalf and donated $2,000 to his Legal Defense Fund. Jim Gerlach sides with Tom DeLay on nine out of ten votes, supporting destructive and irresponsible fiscal, social, and foreign policy that hurts our district. Jim Gerlach’s problem is that his constituents know Tom DeLay, we know Jim Gerlach, and we know that we can do better.