Cleansed of his sins

    Luckily for Ralph Reed, the once-cherubic face of the religious right, image rehabs are easy in amnesiac America.The ostensible news last night was that a passel of Republican presidential aspirants showed up in Iowa to woo religious conservative voters at a forum sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition. But, for me, the real news is that this national group is chaired by Reed – who was outed back in 2006 as a poster boy for Washington sleaze, as a high-rolling lobbyist who preached moral virtue while making piles of tainted dough with his good pal, felon Jack Abramoff.Five years after his political career imploded – he was routed in a Georgia Republican primary when he ran for lieutenant governor – Reed is rolling again, telling the Politico website yesterday that the ’12 Republican hopefuls should trumpet morality and ensure that moral issues don’t “ride in the back of the bus.” He pointed out that his fellow Christian activists “take a very proprietary role in the process.”All of which prompts a question: How is it possible that this guy can rise anew in the religious ranks as a reborn power broker, preaching his coalition’s “high moral values,” after having demonstrably traded his own morals for immoral money?But of course it is possible – because American memories are short, because soiled reputations are so often cleansed by the passage of time.Just for the record, an ’06 Republican Senate report nailed Reed for publicly parading himself as a moral foe of casino gambling – whereas, in reality, he was feasting on the proceeds of casino gambling.In 1998, Reed quit his longstanding gig with the Christian Coalition and teamed up with super-lobbyist Abramoff, telling his new partner in an email, “I need to start humping in corporate accounts.” At Abramoff’s behest, Reed lobbied to block some Gulf Coast casino projects; basing his opposition on moral grounds, he mobilized Christian activists to help the crusade. It turned out, however, that Reed’s true motivation was a tad more nuanced. His client was the Mississippi Band of Choctaws, a Native-American tribe. This tribe was already running some Gulf Coast casinos, and it had a vested economic interest in ridding itself of all competition. So it reportedly paid Reed $5 million to squash the rival projects.  Trapped by the truth in the Senate report, Reed, who at one time had been lauded by Time magazine as “the right hand of God,” tried to invoke a morality loophole. In other words, he lied. He claimed he had never known that the money enriching his coffers had come from the Choctaws – but the Senate report quoted emails showing that he and Abramoff had repeatedly discussed the Choctaws (1999, Abramoff to Reed: “Get me invoices as soon as possible, so I can get Choctaw to get us checks ASAP”). And to ensure that Reed looked ostensibly pure, Abramoff rigged a laundering scheme. He routed the casino money through various organizations,including (you gotta love this one) a fake think tank that was run by a life guard and a yoga instructor.But how many people read the Senate report, or remember the coverage about how Reed reaped special-interest cash by trading on Christian values? How many people have rented Casino Jack and the United States of Money, the documentary that details the Abramoff-Reed-casino connection? Certainly not enough to keep Reed off the moral comeback trail. When Reed was first outed, back in the spring of ’06, he drew condemnation from his old boss, Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson; in the pastor’s words, “the Bible says you can’t serve both God and Mammon.” Reed did dual service, yet now he’s back on top anyway, brokering yesterday’s faith forum and defending the religious right’s “exaggerated role in the nominating process.”Marshall Wittmann, who worked as a lobbyist for Reed back in the halcyon days of the Christian Coalition, insisted a few years ago, in a withering remark, that Reed was toast: “Insofar as the Lord seems to treat the self-righteous with special disdain, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ralph gets a busy signal if he calls for divine intervention on his behalf.”But given Reed’s new prominence in 2011, maybe he got through to God after all. Or maybe he’s simply a beneficiary of our temporal world, where amnesia reigns.——-Speaking of moral values hypocrisy, we can at least bid farewell to John (“Marriage is an extremely important institution in this country”) Ensign. Late yesterday, the Nevada senator announced his imminent “retirement” in 2012. Translation: He knew that Nevada Republican voters were going to slaughter him in the ’12 senatorial primary, and that an impending Senate report might excoriate him for lack of ethics, so he opted to spare himself the humiliation by fleeing for the hills.Hard as it is to believe now, Ensign a few scant years ago was considered a rising Republican star and a potential presidential candidate. But that was before he slept with the wife of a top aide, then tried to cover his tracks and appease the aide by engineering a hush money payment of 100 grand, drawn from the bank account of his casino mogul daddy. (Good grief. Casinos again.)Ensign said yesterday he has learned that “there are consequences for sin.” No word yet on whether he and John Edwards plan to pray together.

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