For those who still claim that the Jack Abramoff scandal will not "play" politically, the Republican voters of Georgia beg to differ.
Christian right leader Ralph Reed's plan to begin his climb of the American political ladder as lieutenant governor of Georgia was thwarted in Tuesday's Republican primary. Links to convicted influence-peddler Abramoff did Reed in.
Horrified by the hypocrisy of Reed, who parlayed his association with the Christian Coalition into a lucrative political consulting gig that saw him wrapping a "moral values" cloak around the lobbyist's sleaziest clients, Georgia Republicans gave the nomination for the state's No. 2 job to Casey Cagle, a state senator who shared Reed's conservatism but not his crookedness.
With most of the votes counted, Cagle was ahead by a solid 56-44 margin.
Reed had entered the race as the clear frontrunner. His years of close association with the Christian Coalition and other religious right groups had earned him a reputation as a virtuous Republican — a reputation he hoped to ride into the lieutenant governorship, the governorship and the Republican nomination for president in 2012 or 2016.
But Reed didn't count on the lobbying career of Jack Abramoff — his buddy from College Republican days — blowing up into one of the seediest political scandals in decades. Nor did he think that his emails to Abramoff — including one in which "Mr. Moral Values" declared, ``I need to start humping in corporate accounts. I'm counting on you to help me with some contacts." — would be made public.
Abramoff did, indeed, help Reed get the big accounts. And Reed returned the favor, aiding Abramoff by exploiting his reputation as Christian conservative to help the lobbyist defend casino gambling interests and corporations exploiting sweatshop labor.
All the sordid details came out during a primary campaign capped by the announcement that a Texas Indian tribe had filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Reed and others, claiming that Reed conspired with Abramoff to shut down the tribe's casino while hiding the fact that they were in the pay of another tribe and competing casinos.
Cagle did not hesitate to exploit those details. One television ad from the Cagle campaign detailed Reed's involvement with Abramoff's efforts to prevent passage of federal legislation that would have extended labor-law protections to women and children working in garment factories in the Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the Pacific. "Reed worked with Abramoff to deny women and children legal protection from sweat shops in the Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory — even though our government warned that women on the Islands were subjected to forced abortions and children were coerced into prostitution," the ad charged. As the words "Forced Abortions" and "Prostitution" flashed on the screen, and announcer declared: "Ralph Reed, his values are for sale."
Cagle ads, with their emphasis on the delicious irony of Reed's flexible morality, propelled the little-known state senator into a victory few would have imagined possible at the start of the campaign.
They also made Reed the first prominent political victim of the Abramoff scandal. Reed's political ambitions are now on hold, perhaps permanently.
But the man who led the Christian Coalition and then went on to promote casino gambling and sweatshops is not without accomplishment. While he is certainly not without competition for the title, Ralph Reed is, arguably, the most prominent hypocrite in America.
By John Nichols
Reprinted with permission from The Nation