Deja Vu All Over Again
  by Gene Lyons

      AS I WAS saying, journalists seem to heed opinion polls more
than politicians. Take the Washington Post's  February 9th editorial
rejecting Sen. Fritz Hollings' (D-S.C.) call for an Enron independent
counsel. "The coziness between the administration and Enron means that
the scandal could conceivably implicate political figures in ways that demand
an independent prosecutor," the Post concedes. "But that hasn't happened
yet; nobody has credibly alleged a crime by a member of the administration.
And as long as the focus of the inquiry remains on crimes by the corporation
and its accountants, the Justice Department can handle the matter."

        Compare the same newspaper's January 5, 1994 argument that
Whitewater "represents precisely the kind of case in which an independent
counsel ought to be appointed. We say that even though-and and this should
be stressed-there has been no credible charge in this case that either the
president or Mrs. Clinton did anything wrong. Nevertheless, it is in the
public interest--and in the president's as well--to put the inquiry in
independent hands....Nor is it protection enough to say that the
investigation is in the hands of career [Justice Department] attorneys.
To whom do they report?"

        But that was then; this is now. Again, Enron's shady practices cost
investors more than 1000 times what Jim McDougal's petty scams cost
taxpayers. Shoddy and one-sided as the Post's Whitewater coverage was,
its editors might argue that they'd learned something from Kenneth Starr's
mad quest. Starr so discredited the independent counsel statute that the
idea of reviving it makes everybody faintly bilious.

        What's needed is what worked during Watergate: an independent
investigator of unimpeachable integrity appointed by the Attorney General.
Former GOP Senators John Danforth and Warren Rudman come to mind.
Given the likely uproar when investors' names in Enron's crooked offshore
"partnerships" are revealed-and remembering that crony capitalism has always
been what the Bush family does best-it's going to take more than Republicans
chanting that Enron's not a political scandal to restore public trust.

        IN POLITICAL DEBATE, the commonest logical fallacy is the Straw
Man: attributing to your opponent an argument so ludicrous it's easily refuted.
Crucial to success is the art of mendacious paraphrase. Here's how a recent
Democrat-Gazette editorial attacking "Daschlenomics" summarized a speech
by the Senate Majority Leader: "The tax cuts that the Bush administration
initiated caused the recession that began last March, even though they hadn't
gone into effect yet. (Actually, consumer spending rose after the Bush tax cuts
were distributed despite September 11th. But why go into detail?)"

        Why, indeed? By contrast, here are Daschle's actual words of
January 4th: "By 2000, not only was the deficit gone, we had a record $236
billion surplus....For the first time in a generation, both our short term
and our long term economic positions appeared strong. Then the inevitable
happened. Our economy started to cool. By last March we know now the
expansion was officially over and a recession had begun. Every economic
boom eventually slows down. When that happens, the question is not who
is to blame, but what do we do to get the economy growing again?"

        Did Daschle say tax cuts caused the recession? No, he plainly said
it was inevitable, and there was no point blaming anybody. As the The Daily
Howler has shown, the original source of the distortion was a Washington
Times  column by noted economist Rush Limbaugh. What Daschle also said
is that the Bush tax cuts are the single largest cause of the vanished ten
year surplus, meaning higher interest rates, slower growth and a
looming crisis in Medicare and Social Security.

        SPEAKING OF LOGICAL fallacies, here's another beauty. Chiding
"pedants" (like me) who pointed out that President Bush's "Axis of evil"
are enemies, not allies, Democrat-Gazette editors sneered that "They'd
forgotten, if they ever knew, that the original Axis--Germany, Italy, and
Japan--were also worlds apart culturally and sometime rivals before
their evil designs united them in aggression."

        To simplify, A is A because B is B, and perfect circularity is achieved.

        A RECENT "VOICES" letter by Fred Lemon of Cabot called the Clinton
administration "the most corrupt and the history of this country."
He can believe what he wants, but it's worth mentioning that not a single Clinton
appointee was convicted of a crime involving overnment service. Webb Hubbell
pled guilty to embezzling from his law partners (including Hillary Clinton); Henry
Cisneros admitted  lying about paying an ex-mistress to go away. Otherwise,
five independent counsels struck out. No Republican administration in living
memory can say the same.

        Lemon also asserted that former Enron CEO Ken Lay "was treated to
an overnight stay in the Lincoln Bedroom by Bill Clinton for his big bucks
to the Democrats." Sorry, but it never happened. Lay's name does not appear
on published lists of White House visitors. Former President Clinton's office
told me the allegation is categorically false. Pundit Fred Barnes first spread
the tale on Fox News. Maybe he was confused, because Lay DID attend a
White House bunking party under President Bush's father. Barnes should
cite his authority for this bogus claim or admit the error.

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