Bob Franken: Sheldon's 'Buy America' program

Is this a great country or what? Where else could a Chris Christie believe that once he grows up, he can be president of the United States? There he was in Las Vegas — or, as New Jersey people like to call it, “The Other Atlantic City” — joining fellow prospective Republican presidential candidates Bush, Walker and Kasich in a group pander before billionaire Sheldon Adelman. But pity Christie. In midgrovel, he tripped.

The well-known Adelman, who accumulated his fortune from a worldwide network of casinos, has many passions. He’s dead set against online gambling, which is easy to understand, considering his pleasure-and-loss empire is a brick-and-mortar one. He’s also a fierce supporter of Israel; in fact, the various GOP wannabes were officially there to make appearances before the Republican Jewish Federation. But they really were there because of Adelson’s other hobby: Sheldon Adelson is part of that very small group of obscenely wealthy people who try to purchase governments, in particular the American one. Last time around, he spent nearly a hundred mil in a failed attempt to buy the White House for the GOP.

He is willing to try again, and that’s why many of the party’s luminaries were there for “Sheldon’s Primary.” In exchange for a private ring-kissing session, they each made a public speech trying to outdo one another with their expressions of undying support for Israel. But when it was Christie’s turn, he plain and simply stepped in it.

He was describing his strong impressions during the visit he and his family made a couple of years ago: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.”

If there had been loud alarms in the room, they would have started clanging. Referring to the West Bank and other tightly controlled areas where Palestinians live as “occupied territory” is a definite no-no to Jewish true believers.

Up until that point, he was on a roll, wowing his audience with anti-Obama rhetoric like “We cannot have a world where our friends are unsure whether we’ll be with them, and our enemies are unsure of whether we’ll be against them.” Poor Christie. He was trying so hard to put “Bridgegate” behind him and build a bridge to Sheldon Adelson’s coffers, and he blew it. All he could do is ask for another private bowing-and-scraping meeting to apologize.

Even by Las Vegas standards, this was sordid. Usually, the super-rich try to hide their efforts to put their guy into the White House. The infamous Koch brothers have been flushed out, but Adelson doesn’t even bother with camouflage. In fact, he’s pretty blatant. And his suitors show little shame as they prostrate themselves before him. Will Rogers talked about a government that was the “best that money could buy.” Through the decades, we have deteriorated into the worst that money can buy. The special interests, with limitless money at their disposal, have been able to sabotage just about any effort for the public sector to serve the public.

Sad to say, most of our politicians are scared to look past the next election, which means they are willing pawns of those who can buy it for them or force them out if they don’t do the bidding of the powerful few. The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has just made things worse with the ruling that lifts some of the few remaining limitations that stood between our democracy and a full oligarchy.

We’ve all heard the expression “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Unfortunately, the sorry spectacle sponsored by Adelson demonstrates that what goes on in Vegas won’t stay there, but will spread its rot through our entire system.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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