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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Documentary goes after Abramoff -- and capitalism

My column today reviews the new documentary on Jack Abramoff:

"Casino Jack" is good entertainment. It takes good material — money, power, hypocrisy, double-dealing, murder and cocky bad guys who eventually get caught — and pieces it together well.

But documentaries aren't just supposed to tell tales — they are supposed to make points. In the Abramoff case, there were plenty of points to make: Lobbyists have too much influence in Washington. Fundraising plays an outsize role in Congress. Power corrupts.

But the the-game-is-rigged theme wasn't enough for liberal filmmaker Alex Gibney. He drilled down deeper in search of more explosive stuff that would fit his worldview: The Republican majority by 2000 had become utterly servile to fundraising. Abramoff was a crook, and he pulled the strings in the GOP caucus.

But even those points were too broad to make the indictment that Gibney was seeking. Somehow, the story of Abramoff using his fundraising and political connections to make hundreds of millions of dollars off of Indian tribes needed to excoriate the whole notion of free markets.

So Gibney brought in author Thomas Frank.

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