Friday, July 07, 2006

Garrison Keillor is one of America’s great story-tellers. Sometimes I think he’s slick and shallow, other times I think he’s profound and touching. I should do so well!

The religious right has an incredible tolerance for liars. Maybe that’s a benefit of a fundamentalist view that people are incorrigible sinners and have to get saved on a weekly basis: no illusions about human behavior. The relationship of Ralph Reed to the ultimate corrupt politician Jack Abramoff would put me off the man forever. But Reed, the once and future champion of clean-cut virtue and Bible-thumping honesty, appears to be weathering the shit-storm about his connections. At least so far. Maybe, if he slides down in the polls, he’ll do a Jimmy Swaggert and fall down in tears, pleading for forgiveness... It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

And, so, it turns out that Garrison Keillor isn’t just a grand story-teller, he’s an astute political analyst, as well... (link at bottom of essay)

Garrison Keillor: 'Ralph Reed and the gospel truth'
Date: Friday, July 07 @ 09:38:16 EDT
Topic: The Religious Right

Garrison Keillor, Star-Telegram (Forth Worth, TX)

If a preacher secretly accepts a bucket of money from a saloonkeeper to organize a temperance rally at a rival saloon and maybe send in a gang of church ladies to chop up the bar with their little hatchets, this would strike you and me as sleazy, but others are willing to make allowances, and so Ralph Reed's political career is still alive and breathing in Georgia. He has bathed himself in tomato juice and hopes to smile his way through the storm.

The facts are fairly simple. Reed left the Christian Coalition in 1997 as it was sinking, and he was paid by Jack Abramoff to organize opposition to a gambling bill in the Texas Legislature, which would have opened the door to competition for Abramoff's client casinos in Louisiana.

So Reed got the good Christians of Texas ("We have over 50 pastors mobilized, with a total membership in those churches of over 40,000 -- that includes Second Baptist, which has 12,000 members," he reported breathlessly) to bombard the Legislature with phone calls and letters denouncing gambling, for which Reed was paid millions of dollars in gambling money, by way of Abramoff's bagman, Grover Norquist.

Reed also helped defeat a state lottery and video poker in Alabama, on behalf of casinos in Mississippi. In Alabama, he told Abramoff, he had "over 3,000 pastors and 90,000 religious conservative households." He enlisted these Baptists in a fight against one saloon while he was on the payroll of another.

Imagine if Ralph Nader had solicited money from Ford and Chrysler when he went after General Motors' Corvair.

A true party loyalist would withdraw from the Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Georgia and say, "I will not allow this mess to distract people from the good work of my party." But Reed is no quitter.

"Had I known then what I know now, I would not have undertaken the work," he said, when the details came out in a Senate Indian Affairs Committee report. Reed insists he didn't know it was gambling money, which, given the e-mail traffic between him and Abramoff, is a thin twig on which to hang a defense. Either Reed understands English or he does not.

Abramoff tells him that he'll get a check as soon as the Coushattas send in the money. The Coushattas were in the casino business. You don't come up with $5.3 million from selling beaded coin purses.

Reed also argues that his stopping gambling in Texas and Alabama was a good thing in and of itself, even though he was hired by rival casinos to do it. Using the same reasoning, Lucky Luciano was on solid moral ground when he knocked off Dutch Schultz.

The sexual trespass of a president is a story any mortal can understand, and the use of your father's influence to sneak you into a military unit where you're less likely to face combat is an act of cowardice all of us cowards can appreciate.

But the chutzpah of Reed in wheedling money from Abramoff to snooker Christians into an uproar against gambling is cold-hearted greed. And his work on behalf of the sweatshops and sex factories of the Marianas, arguing that the Chinese women imported there were being given the chance to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, takes us to yet an entirely new level.

Reed is a Presbyterian, and the Westminster Confession says, "[H]e that scandelizeth his brother, or the Church of Christ, ought to be willing, by a private or public confession and sorrow for his sin, to declare his repentance to those that are offended; who are thereupon to be reconciled to him, and in love to receive him."

But Reed is running for office, and that's no time for repentance. Time to hunker down and hope that the prosecutors are occupied with other matters. Smile and shake hands and keep changing the subject. If a reporter mentions Abramoff, smile and say, "I've said as much as I'm going to about that, and now I want to talk about my plan to strengthen families in Georgia."

Gambling? "I've always been opposed to gambling."

Deceit? Greed? "No charges have been filed. I have been exonerated of wrongdoing."

Will it work? We shall see.

Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country, including KERA/90.1 FM.

Source: Star-Telegram (Fort Worth, TX)

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I enjoyed your blog. Thanks for being honest and open about everything. I love Jesus and love reading about people who know him too.

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