OK, the touchstone of the narrative of John McCain and the religious right is his angry denunciation, following the 2000 South Carolina primary, of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance.” But now, thanks to Jo Becker and Don Van Natta Jr.’s fascinating investigative piece on John McCain and the gambling industry in today’s NYT, we learn the sequel–and something more about the underworld of Republican inside politics in the Bush-Delay years.
As anyone who has followed the Abramoff scandal even slightly knows, the Great Game had to do with playing one Indian tribe off against another. Tribes that wanted gaming licenses hired lobbyists to get them in, while other tribes, feeling their business threatened, hired lobbyists to keep them out. From the moral values standpoint, a politician could claim to be opposing gaming interests even as he was taking money to protect gaming interests. Sweet.
Now it seems–and truth to tell, the Times has the goods–that McCain has been playing his own version of the Great Game. As chairman of the key Senate committee, he learned what the Abramoff gang was up to from those it had ganged up on, and quickly adopted the stance of Senate Savonarola, investigating the corruption (I’m shocked, shocked!) even unto its innermost parts. And then, having gotten mad, came the chance to get really, really even.
That’s because it turned out that right in the middle of the hanky-panky were Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, paladins of the religious right and the guys who put the smear on him in South Carolina.
“It was like hitting pay dirt,” said one associate of Mr. McCain’s who had consulted with the senator’s office on the investigation. “And face it — McCain and Weaver [John Weaver, McCain’s chief political strategist] were maniacal about Ralph Reed and Norquist. They were sticking little pins in dolls because those guys had cost him South Carolina.”
Neither Norquist nor Reed was ever indicted for anything, and Norquist has more or less been able to skate away. But Reed had decided on a career in electoral politics for himself, and in 2006 was running for the GOP nomination to be lieutenant governor of Georgia. Thanks to the revelations, he had to kiss that sucker goodbye.
It now becomes clearer why the McCain campaign went so hysterically after the Times last week. The necessary response calls were being made, and the campaign knew what was coming down the pike. The last thing it needs is for the country to take another close look under the Abramoff rock, not with the Maverick as one of the creatures crawling around.