No one is exactly saying that but somehow it seems that the entire point of this episode of Moyers on America is nothing short of a “don’t get caught” message. You can read that between the lines. The lines are somewhat blurred during the 110 minutes long piece on Jack Abramoff scandal but they become painfully clear at the final “panel discussion”. To shortsighted it might seem that the problem of Jack Abramoff scandal is Jack Abramoff himself who got carried away in playing the system. It might seem that this is an example of a rotten fruit in a relatively healthy basket of assorted goods. Things are bit more complicated than that. Fruit is not rotten. Orchard itself is. Abramoff just fell from the tree and became visible which eventually led to his downfall.
There’s no business like show business the saying goes and it too might seem to be entirely wrong. After all, no mere actor comes close to the amount of money Vladimir Putin or big industrialists have. The saying is, unfortunately, true. The politics that we’re witnessing today is nothing more than a show business and this documentary episode about lobbying scheme of Jack Abramoff shows just that. The beautiful part of it is its simplicity. In a normal course of events one commits the crime, gets caught, serves some time in prison and is released. If all goes well one is, hopefully, once again integrated into a society where he can work for his wage to the rest of his days. This causative relation holds true even in the case of Jack Abramoff. The only difference lies in numbers. During his political career Abramoff managed to “extort” more than 80 millions of dollars. Part of that sum was probably stashed away at some offshore account. After indictment, Abramoff, like everybody else (there’s the democracy at work right there), goes to minimal security prison where he serves four of his appointed six years after which he walks away. Now, lest assume that he managed to save 10% of the aforementioned money. Eight million dollars for four years of prison work in a nice compensation. If you can manage better than that, I salute you.
Jack Abramoff got caught. Tons of others didn’t and are happily doing what they’re doing the best – playing the system. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t continue to do so. The system itself allows it. The main problem with Bill Moyers documentary is its conventional approach to the problem of relation of lobbyists, politics and policies. Still, one can still see some really depressing things which show the unimportance of documentary journalism, whatever its agenda might be. You can see people running businesses worth tens of millions of dollars giving money to a guy that just says that he can help without having anything to back that saying with. You see various non-profit organizations whose leaders don’t think to ask where does the money come from, you see people cheering and getting crazy about campaign speeches without a single thought of who is saying what and why, you see getting same people elected and coming back after they lost a fight because memories are short and voters rarely think in big pictures. There’s an e-mail transcript in the movie from which you can see that Abramoff is calling his clients idiots. At a later point, the representative of the Native American tribes asks rhetorically “if you think that we’re idiots why, then, Mr. Abramoff, are you willing to have business with us”. There’s your proof of idiocy right there. As Abramoff made blatantly obvious – you make business with idiots because it’s so easy to take money from them.
The charade goes on and, if that’s not clear enough, it doesn’t just go on in US&A. It’s the permanent state of things which reaffirms itself on every single occasion. While watching this movie I remembered an article by Herbert Marcuse’s called Repressive Tolerance.
“Tolerance is extended to policies, conditions, and modes of behavior which should not be tolerated because they are impeding, if not destroying, the chances of creating an existence without fear and misery.”
“The liberating force of democracy was the chance it gave to effective dissent, on the individual as well as social scale, its openness to qualitatively different forms of government, of culture, education, work-of the human existence in general. The toleration of free discussion and the equal right of opposites was to define and clarify the different forms of dissent: their direction, content, prospect. But with the concentration of economic and political power and the integration of opposites in a society which uses technology as an instrument of domination, effective dissent is blocked where it could freely emerge; in the formation of opinion, in information and communication, in speech and assembly.”
The fact that Abramoff served his sentence and became a “star” of his own movie tries to strengthen the belief in a democracy itself or – to better serve the point I’m trying the make – to System itself. It goes to show that Abramoff tried to play an unfair game, got carried away, and was “politically executed” afterwards. The catharsis was, as moviemakers narrative would want us to believe, achieved. The question is – did Senate hearings stopped the game itself? I think that we all know an answer to that.
Watch it here
Writers: Sherry Jones, Bill Moyers
Studio: Public Affairs Television, Washington Media Associates