Jewish World Review Jan. 23, 2002/ 10 Shevat 5762


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Find Cheney... -- THE MOST serious political problem President Bush currently faces comes down to two words: Dick Cheney. There's no excuse for Mr. Taciturn to impersonate Hillary Clinton and keep secret the contents of his six meetings that included Enron representatives when he chaired an energy-policy commission last spring. White House officials insist nothing improper took place-and by the way, isn't it time to pink-slip press secretary Ari Fleischer, who makes the insufferable Joe Lockhart look like the younger William F. Buckley in comparison?-so just deliver the goods. Postponing the inevitable is dumb: of course Democrats and the media will pounce on (and distort) one, two or three details, but unless there's a legitimate scandal in the closet, the administration ought to take its medicine sooner rather than later.

National Review editor Rich Lowry neatly summed up the Beltway hysteria on the magazine's website on Jan. 17. He wrote: "The problem for the follow-the-money campaign-finance reformers is that everyone in the scandal played to type. The Clinton administration, recipient of Enron largesse, did Enron a big favor by signing the Kyoto treaty, which would have created major new business for Enron had it gone into effect.

"Does anyone really believe the Clinton administration signed the global-warming treaty because of Enron contributions?

"The Bush administration, in turn, aggressively pushed energy deregulation, which was in accordance with Enron's interests. This leads some critics to say that Enron 'wrote' the Bush energy plan, but are we supposed to believe that Bush would support energy re-regulation if it weren't for Enron?

"Both the Clinton and Bush administrations were following, not money, but their ideologies. What's the scandal in that?"

But just as important, where the hell is Dick Cheney? Frankly, all this undisclosed-living-quarters jazz strikes me as far more suspicious than any charges that he rolled over for Kenneth Lay. Consulting with industry chieftains happens every day in Washington, DC, as Robert Rubin, Al Gore and Bill Daley could tell you. Did Cheney have another heart attack? A minor stroke? Is he so bored with his job-during one of the most perilous periods in American history-that his passion for fishing has escalated? I admire Cheney, and believe he's an asset to the administration, but the guy's not indispensable. Bush, the number-one assassination target (ahead of his father and brother Jeb), is making appearances throughout the country, just as a wartime president ought to. The Vice President needs to be seen at press conferences, on talk shows, and often.


Cheney's disappearing act, and refusal to release those records, gives DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, who needn't adhere to the bipartisan charade (on the war) as closely as the 10 Democrats currently fundraising for a 2004 run against Bush, valuable ammunition for this fall's midterm elections.


Not that Karl Rove, Bush's political architect, is helping out his boss. Rove's an arguably brilliant strategist, but, as I've written before, he should keep his mouth shut when even a single reporter gets within 25 feet of his whiskers. There was no advantage in having Rove give rah-rah speeches to the annual meeting of the Republican National Committee in Austin last weekend. The following statement from Jan. 18 gave Rove's opposition a gimme opportunity to wrap themselves in Old Glory: "Americans trust the Republicans to do a better job of keeping our communities and our families safe... We can also go to the country on this issue because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America."

Rove's correct: but you don't make such a boast in public. Did he think his speech would be ignored by the elite print reporters who are delighted to be back on the horse-race political beat, no matter how much they pretend to be interested in employee pension plans?

The results were predictable. The New York Times last weekend ran two stories that were virtually identical about Rove's remarks. The first, written by Richard Berke (headlined "Bush Adviser Suggests War as Campaign Theme") began: "Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, sought today to turn the war into partisan advantage, telling Republicans gathered [in Austin] that the administration's handling of terrorism could be an important theme for the party to trumpet in the November midterm elections."

On Sunday, Alison Mitchell reinforced that theme, extolling Dick Gephardt's "fiery" repudiation of Rove's imprudent battle cry. Her article, under the headline "Democrats Say Bush Aide Uses War for Political Gain," had this lede: "Democratic leaders today pledged an election-year struggle over economics and domestic policy even as they assailed the president's chief political adviser for telling Republicans that President Bush's handling of terrorism could be an important campaign theme."

Because of Rove's gaffe, Gephardt was able to say: "These young people in Afghanistan are not fighting for the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. They're fighting for the greatest country that has ever existed on earth. That's the United States of America." Never mind that the Democrats are clearly hoping for an extended recession-which they'll blame on Bush's tepid tax cut that was signed long after the economic slowdown began-to whip up voters next November.

McAuliffe, the multimillionaire who was called the greatest fundraiser in history (as in soft money) in the summer of 2000 by Al Gore, also struck a populist tone at the Democrats' Washington, DC, session, even as he introduced a compressed 2004 primary schedule that will benefit those contenders who can raise the most money in the shortest period of time. The chairman sermonized last Friday: "If the White House is politicizing the war, that's nothing short of despicable. For Karl Rove to politicize the issue is an affront to the integrity of the entire United States military."

Who can doubt that McAuliffe, one of Bill Clinton's shadier associates, is more concerned about U.S. Marines abroad than his golf game or a close Senate contest in Arkansas?

Patriotism out of the way, the hyper money-man got down to business on Saturday. He said, apparently with a straight face, "How about that Enron story? Folks, it's simply outrageous, and my heart goes out to the employees and shareholders who were victimized by a web of greed and deceit. I do want to be fair though; there's no evidence yet [italics mine] that anyone in the Bush administration did anything improper in this case." He then spoke about the "interesting parallels between Enron and the administration it so generously supported. Think about it, risky investments, mountains of debt, accounting shenanigans and a little fuzzy math, then the folks at the top cash in while innocent working people are left holding the bag."

Folks, if McAuliffe and the Democrats are politicizing Enron's bankruptcy for political gain, that's nothing short of despicable! It's an affront to all the elected officials who gladly accepted campaign contributions from the vaporized company!

Times headcase Frank Rich was less charitable toward Enron employees who got burned, writing on Jan 19, "...[E]veryone instantly gets an epic fraud in which arrogant high-fliers stacked the deck to fleece thousands of peons to the tune of zillions."

I wonder: If Enron were based in Manhattan rather than Houston, would Rich have called its workers "peons"?

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2002, Russ Smith