In the Arena

Craps

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Admittedly, the opening image of today’s New York Times story about John McCain as “one of the founding fathers of Indian gaming” is striking: McCain in a private room at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, an institution over which his Indian Affairs Subcommittee has oversight, playing craps with lobbyists who try to ply his committee (Scott Reed) and run his campaign (Rick Davis).

But that’s not the most important thing about the story: Thanks to my colleague Michael Scherer, we’ve known for months that McCain was a high-rolling craps player. What we didn’t know about was his extensive ties to the lobbyists who work the Indian gambling issue, his willingness to do their bidding, take their money and advice. There is nothing illegal here. McCain even bucks the gaming interests at time–opposing betting on college football games in Vegas, for example. But there is much that is unseemly.

Some of the most amazing stuff is the history etymology of the Jack Abramoff investigation–which was apparently dumped in McCain’s lap by a lobbyist who was one of Abramoff’s competitors:

Mr. McCain’s inner circle played a behind-the-scenes role in bringing Mr. Abramoff’s misdeeds to Mr. McCain’s attention — and then cashed in on the resulting investigation. The senator’s longtime chief political strategist, for example, was paid $100,000 over four months as a consultant to one tribe caught up in the inquiry, records show.

The Times details several other stories that illuminate McCain’s questionable behavior, and–yet again–that of his campaign manager, Rick Davis.

Finally, the notion that McCain loves craps–as opposed to skill games like blackjack or poker–is just too perfect. As a sometime novelist, I can assure you that you couldn’t create a character whose public behavior is marked by wild, peremptory gambles and whose private avocation was shooting craps. It would be too obvious. The question is, will McCain’s weird public risk-taking–the nomination of Palin, the bizarre “suspension” of his campaign last week–come to be seen as a problem for him as a prospective President. But his behavior as Chairman of the Indian Affairs Subcommittee is certainly disappointing–and about as far from being a maverick, or a reformer, as you can get.

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