for a Special Prosecutor?
by Matthew Miller.
Aides describing the president's outrage over CEO behavior -- set to
peak next week in a big speech on Wall Street
-- say Bush feels "betrayed by his class," If so, one thing is
certain: It's the first time he's had cause to feel this way!
Bush's muscular new piety on corporate ethics means the press has the
hook it needs to re-examine his cozy Texas
business history. And that means we may finally get beyond fawning
accounts of Bush's irst-president-with-an MBA-management style to reminders
that, among other remarkable facts, (1) Bush is the first president
been investigated by the SEC for insider trading, and (2) Bush seems
to have received an unusual $12 million gift
while governor of Texas that accounts for his fortune.
Now, before everyone starts screaming, "how dare you sully the name
of our commander-in-chief with some dirty low-down truthtelling," lets
be clear. Unlike, say, the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, I'm playing
fair. Bush is putting this issue in play of his own volition.
Or, more precisely, because his pollsters tell him that not getting out
front here is a certain risk, whereas the chance the press will broadcast
damning facts from Bush's business past is less certain.
In any event, intimidating reporters into backing off negative stories
about the boss is (pardon the phrase) a war this White House knows how
to fight. The day one strategy, after Paul Krugman launched the first
salvo in his New York Times column, was for Bush to say dismissively, "it's
been fully vetted." This Krugman-to-reporters-to-Bush exchange made
page A12 in The Times and A4 in The Washington Post. A start, yes
-- but not nearly good enough!
News outlets inclined to say, "we looked into that during the campaign"
have to acknowledge that we're in a new era. After Enron, Worldcom,
Tyco, Arthur Andersen, and countless earnings restatements, it's clear
that facts about Bush given a once-over in the heat of a campaign may not
pass the smell test in this transformed climate. And that's before
we get to all those new facts waiting to be discovered now that business
behavior really matters.
A good place to start is Joe Conason's underappreciated February 2000
piece in Harper's magazine. In 10,000 words, Conason tells a true
Texas version of "How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying."
Among the disturbing highlights:
* The "investigation" of Bush's fortuitous dumping of Harken Energy
stock in 1990 was conducted by an SEC headed by a pal of Bush's father
that dad appointed to his job. The SEC's general counsel then was
the Texas attorney who had handled the sale of the Texas Rangers for W
and his partners in 1989. In the Third World, given such circumstances,
we'd say the fix was in (kinda like the Supreme Court's intervention in
Florida). Anyone for an independent look this time?
* When the Texas Rangers were sold in 1998, while Bush was governor,
his partners, Conason reports, "fattened his payout six times over by awarding
him additional shares in the team at the time of the sale that brought
his 1.8 percent share up to 12 percent." This boosted Bush's return
on a borrowed $600,000 investment from $2.5 million to $15 million.
What swell partners! Anyone think it's time to better understand
what that was all about?
If Democrats who'd made fortunes from Bush-like patterns of crony capitalism
were in the White House during a crisis of corporate integrity, does anyone
doubt that Richard Scaife would have scrambled the jets months ago and
bankrolled mountains of American Spectator exposes?
Luckily,, this area of inquiry is all so legitimate -- no sex, no trumped-up
lawsuits, no Linda Tripp (thank goodness)
-- that the regular media can do it all by themselves.
And do it they must. Beyond the importance of knowing whether
these and other deals crossed the line, Bush's business history underscores
the massive hypocrisy of his avowed public philosophy. How dare this
man preach "self-reliance" and "personal responsibility," how dare he rail
against "dependence on government," when his fortune was won via a gift
from rich pals as payback for persuading Texas taxpayers to approve a sweetheart
stadium deal for the Rangers?
Over to you, New York Times.
Take it away, James Carville.
(Matthew Miller is a senior fellow at Occidental College in Los Angeles.)