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Jack Abramoff: the BIG Story For 2006?

By Warner Todd Houston

January 6, 2006

Everyone is saying so.


From The Daily Kos, to Juan Williams of Fox News, to Rush Limbaugh, the buzz is all about how badly the revelations of Jack Abramoff's lobbying corruption will hurt the GOP in 2006. With his double dealing, his supplying large sums of money, trips and other gifts to members of Congress, and his apparent bilking of millions from various American Indian tribes who wished Congress to favorably review their gambling interests the Abramoff scandal seems like a political powder keg just waiting to go off.


Rabid Republican haters, like the Daily Kos, are gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a wooden stake through the GOP's heart just before the 2006 midterm elections and GOP supporters are filled with dread and foreboding. One thing is sure, a political soap opera is about to loom into public consciousness.


But, how far reaching will this scandal be? Will the public take to it and follow it like they did Nixon's Watergate, Reagan's Contra affairs, or Clinton's zipper problems? Will it so define the public's feelings about the GOP that it will adversely affect the 2006 Midterm elections throwing victory to the Democrats?


At the risk of making a prediction ... I say no. Unfortunately for Democrat supporters, I don't feel this story will mean any major harm to the GOP specifically. It will further erode the public's confidence in the entire political system, however, a problem for both Democrats and Republicans.


I am not saying this scandal is meaningless. In fact, I think it is a good thing to come to light, but not for the reason as the Democrats. The Dems want to spin this as revelatory of Republican corruption, but it isn't. It does reveal the corruption endemic in lobbying and the complete failure of McCain/Fiengold, but this isn't a Republican problem. It is one that equally impacts everyone inside the Beltway.


And therein lies the problem for those who wish to see this Abramoff thing hurt the GOP.


The public may ascribe some of this to the GOP because the mainstream media will bend over backwards to make that sole connection even though there are numerous Democrats involved. But, I do not believe that it will materially harm the GOP's image because Jack Abramoff is not a "politician" in the normal sense of the word. He is a lobbyist.


Abramoff holds no office from which this corruption was launched. He is not a committee member in Congress nor is he an elected official from any state. He makes no law and he is not personally accountable to the voting public. He is not even connected as an operative or employee to any particular candidate or elected official. Therefore the public will not necessarily identify him officially with any Party or office even though he has a long history of assisting the GOP.


To a critical degree he will still be seen as an outsider by those who know anything about the scandal.  The public just won't be able to say he is a this or a that, politically, with confidence and he will stay a shadowy figure in the political landscape, hard for the public to put a finger on. This will mean that many will turn away from this story without it materially affecting their feelings about politics.


And that isn't the only reason.


Most people in the public really don't understand what it is a lobbyist does in the first place. So, when they hear of this scandal, they will have to become familiar with what it is he does and this learning curve will also blunt the initial impact the story has. And once people find out he is paid to peddle influence and push his clients' interest, they will be somewhat unsurprised that he is being accused of peddling influence and pushing his clients' interest.


On top of all of that, when people that bother to delve into the story see the double dealing, double dipping, and obfuscation he is involved in they will ascribe it more to Abramoff's lack of ethics than any particular Party's. This lack of ethics will, however, add more affirmation for many that Congress is hopelessly corrupt itself. But this is a general feeling of corruption that the public casts upon the shoulders of people from both Parties.


According to an AP-Ipsos poll, almost 90% of the respondents felt that corruption is a serious problem in Congress. The Abramoff scandal will deepen this suspicion, but will not send it spiraling into the stratosphere because it is already assumed to be a fact of life inside Washington D.C.


So, remember what I said here. This story will not ring the death knell for the GOP as the Democrats hope it will. Remember you heard it from me that this is going to be a humbug of a story for most Americans. And when my prediction comes to fruition, give me the hearty handshake of satisfaction for my political prescience.


But, if I am wrong ... forget I said anything and ascribe my rambling to a still lingering hangover from my New Year's eve office party.


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