Monday, April 18, 2005

YESTERDAY I COMMENTED on Frank Rich's op-ed noting the fact that most, if not all, of the men in the smarmy Tom DeLay crowd are also fundamental religionists. Today, the Times has an article about one member of this club, Ralph Reed. Reed, who used to head the Christian Coalition and now is a high-priced consultant and a candidate for lieutenant-governor in Georgia, is under fire for accepting millions of dollars in fees to finance a Christian-based campaign against Indian gambling casinos. The problem? The money, paid to Reed by Jack Abramoff, comes from payments made to Abramoff by other Indian gambling casinos. In short, Reed is using gambling money to fund a religious-based fight against gambling.

Naturally, Reed claims he had no idea Abramoff's money came from gambling -- even though Reed, now 43, has known Abramoff for well over 20 years; even though Reed was executive director of the College Republican National Committee when Abramoff was the chair of the Committee; and even though Reed is one of Abramoff's closest friends. The Times piece says that "[t]he men became so close that Mr. Reed sometimes slept on Mr. Abramoff's couch and later introduced Mr. Abramoff to his future wife. "

Yet somehow Ralph Reed is unaware that Jack Abramoff is being investigated by the feds for shady business dealings -- which is how the $4 million deal came to light -- and did not even consider examining the source of that king's ransom.

Reed's defenders use the old "You gotta step in the mud if you want to grab the pig" argument:

"Thirty or 40 years ago, the people who you would see as the spokesmen for traditional values kind of things were people who were outsiders railing against the system," said Kelly Shackelford, a prominent Christian conservative and president of the Free Market Foundation in Texas. "And if they didn't get a hundred percent of what they believe in, they weren't going to play." Mr. Reed led a new wave of Christian conservatives, Mr. Shackelford said, who "understand that you have to be part of the system, and you can't sit outside and throw rocks at everybody."

That argument might make some sense in a straight crime-fighting context, where the FBI or the local police authorities infiltrate the organizations they're trying to bust. But we're not talking about law enforcement or public policy here. Ralph Reed and his minions are on a moral campaign against a practice they consider (in their claim) to be wrong for religious reasons. That requires a higher standard of behavior, in my opinion. There is no credibility or validity to a moral position that condones sinful behavior in the name of fighting sin.

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