Jewish World Review July 12, 2002 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | As he pondered his reaction to the corporate fraud scandals, George W. Bush had to decide whether to put his political needs ahead of his party or his party's worries first as they both geared up for the 2002 election. He decided he came first.
Bush's stern speech Tuesday sounded all the right notes of anger and revulsion at corporate greed. His address was animated by strong programmatic steps - and, one senses, his door is open wide to further measures. He sent a clear political message: "Nobody, but nobody is getting to the left of me on this issue."
But, in doing so, he took a scandal that was festering in the wings of American politics and put it squarely on center stage.
The corporate plundering of American stockholders is nothing new. The Enron scandal has raged for months and has had no more political impact than the disgusting revelations of the conduct of Catholic priests and their bishops. A few more corporate revelations would have temporarily rocked Bush's boat, but wouldn't have sunk it.
By his address, Bush has assured that corporate malfeasance is the major domestic issue of the day - the only issue this side of the Atlantic which can rival terrorism in its immediate impact. He guaranteed that the scandal would overshadow the Congressional elections.
And make no mistake: Corporate looting is as Democratic an issue as there ever was. Not only is it a Democratic issue, it is the beau ideal of Democratic issues. The kind liberals dream about.
In ratcheting up the focus on the spate of corporate revelations, Bush has done more than Daschle ever did to promote a Democratic victory in the midterm elections around the corner.
So why did Bush do it? Why did he bestow the presidential seal of approval on a scandal that might have faded with the summer sun?
One explanation is that he decided to do what is right. Clearly, his program is a good one and dramatic movement toward greater government oversight and corporate openness is long overdue. Bush might have been in his Boy Scout mode and just decided, in Al Gore's memorable phrase, to "let it rip."
But there is another, more self-serving explanation which nags at the corner of the mind of this somewhat jaded political operative: Did he decide to cut corporate America loose so that he could escape a savaging for his own possible scandal? Did the cooking he received at Monday's press conference so worry him that he decided to get out ahead of the issue by skewering his capitalist supporters?
Bush may not be home free on the Harkin Energy scandal. The SEC has cleared him. Clinton's SEC has cleared him. But the facts don't look so good in today's harsh light. He unloaded 200,000 shares of stock while he sat on the company Board of Directors and on its audit committee two months before it lost a quarter of its value.
Even worse, the stock's downturn was quite predictable to insiders. Bush and his friends must have suspected that the SEC would disallow the firm's attempts to take an improper profit on the sale of a subsidiary in 1989 to obscure the size of its operating losses. SEC or no SEC, Bush comes off looking vulnerable.
So, Bush, in an effort at damage control, came out swinging against corporate greed. It was a bit like watching Bill Clinton rant about the evils of on-the-job sexual harassment.
The net effect: Good for Bush. Bad for his party. And it's
his party that's on the ballot in 2002.
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