Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A Complex Creature

David Klinghoffer, whose unctuous faux-spirituality I've had occasion to criticize before, has made an astonishingly lame attempt at spitshining Jack Abramoff. He opens the article with this fascinating bit of historical trivia:

A rule in Jewish law holds that when all the judges on the Jewish high court unanimously condemned an accused criminal, he must be set free. The very unanimity was suspicious and called into question the justice of the proceedings.
Of course, even if the Sanhedrin presided over the American judicial system, this would have very little to do with a man who has confessed to his crimes. So let's move on.

The main thing Klinghoffer wants us to know that Abramoff is a complicated man:
[C]ould Abramoff’s problem be classic compartmentalization: cares about mitzvahs, doesn’t care about mail fraud?

In the end, to ask such a question, thinking you can imagine the mind of another person, is to mislead yourself.
Hold that thought. Here's an earlier Klinghoffer piece on the difference between John Kerry and George Bush:
In the mind of Bush, authentic ideas of right and wrong are by definition grounded in a transcendent source: God. "Values," on the other hand, are grounded in sentiment, personal preference — not truth, which means that in the end they count for little. A "values" culture will in the end find that it can justify anything.
"Anything," indeed. They might even find an excuse for torturing children, or defrauding Indian tribes.

In another column, Klinghoffer expounds on the evils of theft:
Also categorized as theft is political demagoguery. The classical exemplar is King David's son, Absalom, who fomented treasonous rebellion by approaching any citizen who had a legal case before the king. Absalom would tell all such litigants that only he understood their gripe. Yes, he felt their pain. Only he would vindicate their complaints — if only he were king!
Klinghoffer's passage on Bush's "transcendent" values is precisely this sort of theft; he attempts to exploit the sincere moral aspirations of his readers by dangling Bush's ghastly counterfeit of piety before them, as though Bush's values were their own. And he does so by claiming to know another person's mind - the very thing he now condemns as an error of judgment.

To hear Klinghoffer tell it, Kerry's besetting sin was his complexity...his tendency to see "nuance" and to espouse pluralism. Though he conceded that Kerry seemed to be "upstanding" in his private life, he still found reasons to be "terrified" by him. Abramoff, by contrast, is portrayed as one of those tedious lapsed heroes out of Graham Greene who, in their agonies of doubt and self-loathing and sin, remain nearer and dearer to God than the timid, simple souls whom they trample.
“God created us as infinitely complex creatures,” Daniel Lapin said in a public statement released after Abramoff’s plea. “We are capable of both evil actions and good ones — very often on the same day.”

Jack Abramoff is undoubtedly a complex creature. The same man who wrote crudely insulting e-mails about Indian gambling moguls plowed the money he made not into a second home, a yacht or mistresses, but into expensive Jewish enterprises of benefit to others: two idealistic religious schools in the Washington, D.C., suburbs; two money-losing kosher restaurants, intended both as a lobbying venue and as a boon to kosher diners and other Jewish businessmen; and private gifts to needy Jews who came to him with broken hearts and empty wallets.
According to no less an authority on moral excellence than John Podhoretz, Klinghoffer is "a wonderful and very earnest guy, and one of the most moral people I've ever known." Strange, then, that this mensch fails to understand that a criminal who uses his ill-gotten money to buy respect does not mitigate, but compounds his crime. Klinghoffer reels off Abramoff's donations to Jewish charities as though they signify something more than the typical Republican tendency to favor image over reality:
The Jewish newspaper in Abramoff’s area, the Washington Jewish Week, deserves credit for bothering to look beyond the negatives. A Jan. 11 article quoted a range of community members who personally witnessed the effects of Abramoff’s generosity, testifying with comments like: “Hundreds of kids in this area owe their Jewish day school education to Jack,” “We remain indebted to him,” and “How many Jews make millions of dollars in this town and don’t give ... anything” back?
That last line is especially classy, I think: "Hey, most rich Jews are tightwads compared to Abramoff!"

Even Podhoretz, who's as venal, dishonest, and bone-stupid a man as you'll find among the National Review crowd, recognizes that Klinghoffer is full of shit:
Just because Jack Abramoff gave money he now acknoweldges he obtained fraudulently to help some religious Jews does not cleanse the money or him. If anything, it dirties those who received it -- even if they received it in all innocence.
This is the most gruesome burlesque of moral daintiness I've seen in a while. Klinghoffer squirts out Talmudic non sequiturs the way an octopus squirts ink, in order to cover the tracks of a confessed criminal who enriched himself and his cronies at the expense of the American taxpayer and democracy itself. Podhoretz rightly scolds him for this sophistry, but can't resist advancing his own obtuse theory of moral contamination, which coincidentally dovetails with the RNC talking points on "Abramoff Democrats." He has to make it clear that ignorance of Abramoff's schemes is no excuse for Democrats who received less money from Indian tribes than they had before he took over.

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern, writing in the aforementioned Washington Jewish Week, dissects Klinghoffer, and by extension, the whole grimy galaxy of po-faced conservative pseudo-moralists:
[N]o matter how much you keep kosher and castigate Americans about sexual morality, if you support corrupt power and act unethically to other human beings, you are a failure as a Jew.
And, I'd add, as a human being.

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