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

Tony Snow

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Musings -- MANY people think the recession has drawn to an end. This ought to set off celebrations, but not in Washington. Here, politicians are trying to assign blame for the all-but-concluded downturn.

Republicans accuse Bill Clinton, claiming he scuttled the economy by suing Microsoft and burying businesses under heaps of regulation.

Democrats blame George W. Bush, saying his tax-cut proposals sent markets into a frenzy, then into a tailspin.

There's a weird vanity at work here. Partisans believe presidents possess talismanic powers to lift or sink the economy. But our prosperity in truth rises or falls through the toil of 110 million working Americans.

Politicians can muck up an economy, but their impact is usually marginal. Information moves so swiftly that investors can adjust to changes far more quickly than government can. As for the new version of the blame game: The people responsible for our prosperity know who they are -- and most are too busy to waste time pointing fingers.

With profound regret I must inform you today that a vile plague has returned to Washington: Business as usual.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle issued an economic diatribe that -- well, didn't hold together. He blamed last year's dwindling surplus on tax cuts that won't take effect for nearly a decade -- but then boasted that his party wants bigger tax cuts than the president over the next five years.

He also advocated higher levels of spending. Beats me on how that program will restore surpluses.

Then one day after Daschle's speech, President Bush hit back with a vivid over-my-dead-body promise to resist tax hikes. The only problem: Democrats aren't talking about tax increases. Both parties have watered down their economic programs this year. As a result, they're screaming about differences that are paltry at best -- much ado about nothing in an election year.

To be honest, I like it better when they're talking about things they seriously intend to do -- like beating terrorism.

A lot of politicians are determined to turn Enron's bankruptcy into the scandal of the century. Democrats want to hang the energy giant's collapse on the Bush administration and Republicans want to pin it on Bill Clinton -- both under the theory that key officials ignored corporate malfeasance because Enron had bought them off.


But if there's any evidence to that effect, it hasn't surfaced yet.

To the contrary, Bush administration officials repeatedly ignored Enron's pleas for help -- and the Clinton team was out of town long before the bankruptcy. The finger-pointing makes the combatants look petty, ridiculous and irrelevant. It's almost as if the lawmakers want to insert themselves into the most unseemly business story in years.

Sometimes, however, important things happen without the permission or connivance of Congress -- and right now, this sure looks like one of them. If politicos want to play it smart, they might want to gather up a few facts, zip their lips -- and let Enron execs take the heat.

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