While most who are commenting on the guilty pleas today of lobbyist Jack Abramoff are focusing on the sleaziness of his operation (and its effects on the political climate in Washington), I see the whole story as a tragedy in the classic sense of the term. Unlike most of those commenting on the affair, I know Jack, though it perhaps might be more accurate to say I knew Jack for the Jack Abramoff I knew when I was involved in College Republicans (CR) in the early 1980s bears little resemblance to the man who stood before a federal judge this morning. That said, given all that I have learned about his scandal, like Michelle Malkin, I “condemn his criminal activities unequivocally.” And agree with the White House that he “must be held to account for what he did.”
When I knew Jack, he was the idealistic national chairman of the College Republican National Committee. Not only did he encourage me to become more active in the group, but he also furthered my education, introducing me to a number of conservative and libertarian thinkers. Indeed, when I became state chairman of the Massachusetts College Republicans, he frequently sent me (and the other state chairmen) books and articles. He did not merely see the mission of College Republicans as helping elect Republicans, but also as promoting ideas. We were not merely to be the collegiate foot soldiers of the Reagan Revolution, we were also to be its advocates and intellectuals.
The Jack I knew (though not without his flaws) was a decent man. In the summer of 1983 when I was interning in DC, I asked Jack to join my parents and me for dinner when they were in town. So impressed were they by Jack that they asked about him for years after that meal. I recall how he charmed my very liberal mother, knowing exactly what to say so as not to offend her even when advocating some very conservative ideas. When I stepped down as state chairman to focus on my studies, not only did he thank me for my efforts, but he also sent a leter to my mother, telling her what a good job her son had done, regretting my decision. College Republicans, he said, would miss my leadership.
Jack was a true and gracious leader with a vision that went beyond merely promoting his party. He was eager as well to promote ideas and to help other bright young conservatives advance.
Given that promise, I am particularly saddened by his fall. (It’s one reason that though I have followed this story, I have not posted on it until today.) It’s not just the tale of another greedy lobbyist who did not know his limits, but of the fall of a man who once had a vision. And that is why it is a real tragedy. An idealist, a man of great promise, loses sight of his ideals in the pursuit of power or pecuniary rewards.