THERE'S nothing this White House loves more than pictures that tell a story - a fictional story. And so another mission was accomplished when President Bush posed with the 13 past secretaries of state and defense he hustled into the Oval Office 10 days ago: he could pretend to consult on Iraq with sages of all political stripes - Madeleine Albright, yet - even if the actual give-and-take, all 5 to 10 minutes of it, was as substantive as the scripted "Ask the President" town hall meetings of the 2004 campaign.
But this White House, cunning as it is, can't control all the pictures all the time. That photo op was quickly followed by Time's Jack Abramoff cover and its specter of other images more inopportune than op. Mr. Bush's aides, the magazine reported, were busy "trying to identify all the photos that may exist of the two men together." Translation: Could a Bush-Abramoff money shot as iconic as Monica on the rope line be lurking somewhere for a Time cover still to come?
But it's not only the genealogy of the Abramoff scandal that separates it from its predecessors. So does the distinctive odor of its possible criminality. In its financial shenanigans and some of its personnel, the Abramoff affair doesn't so much echo Teapot Dome as the business scandal that engulfed Mr. Bush's former No. 1 corporate patron, Enron, in our new century. The Abramoff scandal's pious trappings are sui generis as well. They adhere to the Karl Rove playbook that wraps every hardball White House tactic in godliness and exploits "faith based" organizations as political machines to deliver the G.O.P.'s religious right base.
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