Thursday, December 29, 2005

An Old Story

You would think that the story of the rise and fall of Jack Abramoff would not come as a surprise except for the fact that yet again another up-and-coming political operative has come to grief. Yet again a guy who thought he was smarter than everyone else and knew all the right angles trips over his own arrogance and over-reaching. It’s a tale as old as Icarus and re-told in every culture from the Romans, the Middle Ages, and today. It’s also interesting to note that it was one of the favorite topics of Shakespeare who chose his subjects carefully for both political and allegorical reasons.

But if there is one thing that is constant in human nature, it is the arrogance that inhabits certain people who think they can succeed where others have failed. In many ways that’s a good thing — we should all strive to overcome adversity — unless it’s by playing fast and loose with the rules. “The rules don’t apply to me” has been the defiant proclamation of many criminal defendants, presidents, cabinet members, ministers of the gospel, and just about anyone with an overdeveloped sense of ego and entitlement (which was what propelled them to their position in the first place) who is caught and prosecuted for breaking the law.

In this case, Mr. Abramoff provides a cautionary tale for both Republicans and Democrats. That it has befallen a Republican activist is more interesting since the GOP has always held itself up as the Defenders of Morality and the Jedi Knights against the corruption of the entrenched Democrats; it was how they achieved power in 1994. In truth it turns out that Mr. Abramoff and his allies could teach the Democrats a thing or two about how to work the room. Speaker Jim Wright was hounded out of office for a piddling book advance that wouldn’t pay for one of Mr. Abramoff’s jaunts to Scotland, and the Whitewater land deal that embroiled the Clintons for their eight years in office was a two-phone-call finagle for Jack and Ralph Reed in ripping off the Indians. It seems that the hue and cry that Newt Gingrich raised in 1994 wasn’t so much about the Democrats being corrupt; it was that they, compared to the Republicans, were bush league.

Power and money is a temptation for anyone of any political stripe; that’s been proven time and again. The fact that we don’t learn this lesson is both tragic and opportune: it brings people down and rattles our faith in both the system and our fellow man, but on the other hand, it provides pundits, bloggers, and playwrights an endless stream of stories to write about.