3 Stars – Sobering
It was British Lord Acton who in 1887 wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No where is there a better modern day example of this than in the life of Jack Abramoff, the super-lobbyist that went to jail in 2006 for a host of corruption charges stemming from his influence peddling in Washington D.C. “Casino Jack” tells the story of this man of tremendous skill that had access to every Republican President and Congressional Leader of the past 25 years.
Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) and Tom DeLay (Spencer Garrett), the Republican leader in Congress, became close allies. Jack had worked his way up the political structure beginning in his college years during the Reagan Administration and used his skill and influence to build one of the most effective lobbying organizations in the history of the country. He counted over 200 close friends in Congress, the White House, and the business community.
“Casino Jack” takes you through the world of politics mixed with personal ambition and greed. Abramoff became the richest lobbyist in US history by bilking his clients millions of dollars in the belief that he could bend the will of the President of the United States and the leaders of Congress. In his quest for money, he invested in offshore casinos, fancy restaurants, and questionable business deals, all for personal gain. In reality, he provided little service to his clients, many of whom were people of questionable moral intent.
Being at the center of world power is a tremendous aphrodisiac that can easily overwhelm your senses. Unless you are well-grounded in spiritual values and are surrounded by disinterested friends who will hold you accountable, the ability to see the greater good through the fog of personal ambition is greatly clouded. What at one point in your life might have seemed questionable can quickly become justified behavior.
In the end, Abramoff’s world collapsed along with a number of members of Congress and advisors to the Bush White House due to their laundering of money. Some of those caught in Abramoff’s web are still pending trial. Ironically, Jack Abramoff was released from prison in December 2010, and Tom DeLay was convicted of fraud in Texas in January 2011.
What happens when we begin to believe that good things are coming our way because we are being rewarded for being righteous? The temptation is to believe that the money and power of which we are now a steward is really a reward to us for good behavior. In reality, it is a demonic temptation to cave into greedy illusions about ourselves.
Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay both came from strong religious backgrounds. Abramoff justified his greed by cloaking it in providing support for Hebrew Schools, while DeLay laid claim to bringing God’s Kingdom to earth. Both men bent or violated the law, and both benefited from the bad behavior of each other while taking great comfort in their belief that “the ends justify the means.”
None of this has to do with who is in the White House. Abuse of power is a form of dry rot that also plagues religious institutions, businesses, corporations, and families. No one is immune to its virus. The only inoculation is to humble oneself, seek prayerful guidance, and to establish partners in accountability at every step in the process. We need good leaders in every aspect of our lives, but a good leader is wise to know that they could easily be the first among sinners.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. When we combine money and power, the temptations are exponential. How do you deal with the temptation to use people to gain wealth and position?
2. It is often said that the most heinous of all evil resides near the altar of God. Do you believe the wealth and position of U.S. political power is where we will find the most heinous of political evil? If not, where do you think it resides?
3. The ability to do good is the call on all people of position, wealth and power. How do you do good with the blessings you have been allowed to steward?