Casino Jack

I enjoyed this new film about disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It reminded me of myself.

Like Jack, I converted to Orthodox Judaism (he was born Jewish but came to Orthodoxy later in life) but simultaneously yearned to be a big shot in the wider world. Like Jack, I got high from success and became lost in my own grandiosity, countenancing behaviors and beliefs contrary to my religion.

Like Jack, I’m pretty shaky on ethics. I often feel like I’m above the law. In fact, crossing boundaries can be exciting. “The rules don’t apply to you,” a friend once said to me bitterly.

Like Jack, I don’t think anything he did is so terrible. He exploited Indian tribes? Only to the extent that they allowed themselves to be exploited. If I went up to you and asked you to pay me $30 million to lobby on your behalf, and you paid me, then you’d be a damn fool and I’d have a lot of chutzpah.

The worst thing Jack did in my view, and the worst thing I’ve done, is to present myself to the world as an Orthodox Jew and then to flagrantly violate those standards. Screw people, fine, in the normal ways that ordinary people screw each other all the time, OK, but don’t wear a yarmulke while you do it.

This reminds me of a Jewish prostitute I interviewed years ago who talked about doing threesomes with another pro and a Reform rabbi. She said he felt funny about wearing a yarmulke during their liasons.

Jack called the Indians he represented “troglodytes” and “monkeys.”

He made these remarks in private. I don’t think they’re so terrible. There’s a big difference between public and private. Jack did not go on TV and call his clients “monkeys.” He said it in private. We all say things in private that would look bad if made public, just as we all defecate in private but if this was shown to the world on the CBS Evening News, it would look shocking.

Jack moved in the world of politics and lobbying. It’s hard to be a saint and to be successful in politics and lobbying, just as nice guys don’t tend to succeed in professional football. He has to be judged against the world he worked in.

I remember working in construction and my Christian bosses would call me “dick sniff.” They admitted that such remarks did not live up the highest standards of the New Testament but they pointed out that the Apostle Paul never worked in construction.

The main thing that separates me from Jack Abramoff is that I’ve never had his level of success. If I ever did, I can totally see myself flaming out the same way or worse.

I liked the bit in the movie about a vengeful ex-girlfriend assisting federal investigators. In my experience, most women can fight dirty in relationships in ways that ordinary guys would never consider. Few guys would dob their ex-girlfriend in to law enforcement because she was unfaithful, but many women would do that to their ex-husbands or ex-boyfriends if they had cheated.

I know a ton of men whose adult kids no longer speak to them because these men have remarried. And I wager that in all of these instances, it’s the ex-wife who has poisoned the kids and turned them against their father.

I suspect that in divorces, the men are far less likely to try to turn the kids against the mother than the other way round.

Men are used to competition. They thrive on it. They understand fighting hard but fighting within the rules. Women tend to dislike competition but when forced into it, they hold by few if any rules.

Another thing I have in common with Jack Abramoff is that I know a lot of disreputable people. I’m cool with being on friendly terms with scum because my career as a writer depends on it. If I only hung out with good people, wow, I can’t even imagine it. As a writer, I have to hang out with everybody, and most of the time, it is bad people who make the news.

Still, I don’t want scum in my real life. I’m cool with having superficially friendly relations with them, but I don’t want them close.

I don’t like mixing friends from the various parts of my life. Facebook is changing that however. It forces me to be more unified. I have a lot of low-life friends on Facebook, but sometimes their number depresses me and I start purging them.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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