What got into David Brooks?

“Sleazo-cons”? From the Times’s new conservative columnist? What’s with that?

Brooks’s column denouncing Republican corruption is devastating: much more effective, and basically much nastier, than anything from Left Blogistan, or from Paul Krugman, for that matter. He really hates the people he calls “sleazo-cons,” and he really has the goods on them.

Down in the depths of the netherworld, where Tammany Hall grafters and Chicago ward heelers gather amid spittoons and brass railings, a reverential silence now spreads across the communion. The sleazemasters of old look back into the land of the mortals and they see greatness in the form of Jack Abramoff.

Only a genius like Abramoff could make money lobbying against an Indian tribe’s casino and then turn around and make money defending that tribe against himself. Only a giant like Abramoff would have the guts to use one tribe’s casino money to finance a Focus on the Family crusade against gambling in order to shut down a rival tribe’s casino.

Only an artist like Abramoff could suggest to a tribe that it pay him by taking out life insurance policies on its eldest members. Then when the elders dropped off they could funnel the insurance money through a private school and into his pockets.

This is sleaze of a high order. And yet according to reports in The Washington Post and elsewhere, Abramoff accomplished it all.

Yet it’s important to remember this: A genius like Abramoff doesn’t spring fully formed on his own. Just as Michelangelo emerged in the ferment of Renaissance Italy, so did Abramoff emerge from his own circle of creativity and encouragement.

He goes on. He names names: Ralph Reed, Grover Norquist, two DeLay staffers. And he cites facts: about Indian gaming, Microsoft, and Mobutu Sese Seko.

Truly, a brilliant piece of work.

But why did he write it?

Some off-the-top-of-my-head hypotheses:

1. His relentless partisan hackery was starting to marginalize him, and he thought he needed a cred transfusion. (The most obvious reading.)

2. He’s a moderate Republican at heart, and has decided that now is a good time to make a fight for the soul of the party. (But he must know that’s hopeless, with the White House firmly in the grip of the people Brooks calls “sleazo-cons.”)

3. He’s terrified that the stench coming out of Republican Washington is so awful that the voters might start to notice, and he’s hoping to get a purge started and finished in time for the 2006 elections. (See comment under #2 above. Anyway, Brooks must know tha that cover-ups work, while clean-ups just tell the voters there was something to clean up.)

4. He’s finally had enough. (Maybe the cynicism of the Schiavo travesty just pushed him over the edge.)

Whatever the cause, this is really and truly doubleplusungood news for the Republicans. Brooks knows where the bodies are buried, and has sources who will tell him where the bodies are about to be buried.

One more reason for the Democrats to make corruption in Washington their keynote for 2006 and 2008.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com