January 4, 2006

Giving Michael Corleone A Run For His Money?


If Hurricane Katrina punched some serious holes in the President’s carefully constructed image, let’s see what kind of punishment "Hurricane Jack" delivers to the GOP agenda after scoring a direct hit on Washington yesterday.

In his debut as the Republican’s latest cataclysm, Jack Abramoff appeared positively notorious as he left Federal Court on Tuesday.  Likening the image to a scene from "The Godfather" (one of Jack’s favorite movies), Maureen Dowd said that Abramoff looked "like a stocky gangster from a 40’s movie in black fedora and trench coat."  Later in the day,  Eamon Javers of BusinessWeek gave an almost identical description to Margaret Warner on the PBS News Hour.

So, what’s the significance of the outfit?

In a culture that depends on politics to deliver the highest form of
entertainment, Abramoff is suddenly the new new thing.  The confidence
man’s guilty plea and the Congressional bloodletting guaranteed to
follow has instantly turned Abramoff into a major icon.  As such, the
packaging is central to the package — and the intrigue.

In Dowd’s piece, she refers to a WAPO article by James Grimaldi and Susan Schmidt that appeared last Thursday, December 29th, titled "The Fast Rise and Steep Fall of Jack Abramoff" (link).   Paired with the photo, the article offers an almost perfect foreshadowing.  The first paragraph reads as follows:

Jack Abramoff liked to slip into dialogue from "The Godfather" as he
led his lobbying colleagues in planning their next conquest on Capitol
Hill. In a favorite bit, he would mimic an ice-cold Michael Corleone
facing down a crooked politician’s demand for a cut of Mafia gambling
profits: "Senator, you can have my answer now if you like. My offer is
this: nothing."

So, does Abramoff’s outfit express an image of himself as the mob kingpin?

It’s hard to say.  It’s just as possible Abramoff’s intention was the
opposite.  As an Orthodox Jew who has consistently hidden his illegal
and immoral dealings behind expressions of piety and acts of religious
philanthropy (link), it’s possible the outfit was intended to make Mr. Abramoff look more devout.  (Among Orthodox Jews, there is a tradition of covering one’s head out of respect for God, and the wearing of brimmed hats and black clothing are also customary.)

The esteemed Jewish newspaper, The Forward, lends some
characterological weight to this theory.  According to the publication,
Abramoff told an interviewer ‘he has always worn his conservative
politics and religion on his sleeve.’  To elaborate the point, the article
described the lobbyist as having "accessorized" for the occasion,
combining a double-breasted suit with a small black yarmulke and a tie
dotted with tiny GOP elephants.

(image: Gerald Herbert/AP. January 3, 2006.  Washington. Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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