French Twist
   by Gene Lyons

      For the connoiseur of Bushisms, here's an anecdote attributed to Prime
Minister Tony Blair by the London Times. Seemingly frustrated by his
inability to peddle Texas-style economics to French Premier Jacques Chirac,
it seems, Bush confided to Blair that "the problem with the French, is that
they don't have a word for entrepreneur." The French word for buffoon,
however, is bouffon.

      Like many instances of Bush's fabled ignorance, the "entrenpreneur"
tale  seems almost too good to be true. But then so does President Junior's
standing in opinion polls. Apart from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, can
you think of any number softer than the 70 percent favorable ratings a Gallup
poll says Bush enjoys? Would these be the same American voters who have
watched their retirement investments melting away like the Antarctic ice shelf?

      Apparently some are. Writing in Salon, Joe Conason points out that
fully 39 percent in that same Gallup survey "believe the president did
something 'illegal' or 'unethical' in his role as a corporate director.
Thirty-one percent believe that he 'did not do anything seriously wrong,'
while 30 per cent have no opinion." Do the arithmetic, and it appears that
some who rate Bush favorably also suspect he's a crook.

      The 31percent see-no-evil bunch, of course, represent core Republican
voters who would applaud Junior for being in church if he got videotaped
looting the poorbox. The survey also indicates most people haven't followed
the Harken Energy story closely. Their suspicion reflects consternation over
seemingly never-ending tales of corporate corruption breaking out almost daily.

      Despite the fawning of the political press and the timidity of the
Democrats, it's obvious Junior's favorable ratings have little to do with
his personal virtues or his party's political goals. Mostly, they're a
function of post-9/11patriotism-what many Americans see as their duty to
support the president in his symbolic role as the nation's leader.

      Equally clear is that if he keeps performing as incoherently as he has
of late, Americans are quite capable of supporting Bush the president and
voting against Bush the politician. Indeed, the latest Ipsos-Reid/Cook
Report of a poll conducted between July 11-14 shows Junior's crucial
"re-elect" numbers at 42 percent, down three points from late June. Those
are the numbers political pros watch.

      To the editors of the Washington Post, however, these tedious
questions about Bush's glorious career in the Texas oil business are beside
the point. "The Harken Distraction" they called it in an editorial warning
that "Congress shouldn't let the temptation to play politics with this issue
distract it from corporate reform." After all, the "Securities and Exchange
Commission investigated the case and did not take action, apparently because
it could not find firm evidence of wrongdoing."

      Unpersuaded, the impertinent activists at
resurrected and mocked a 1994 Post editorial entitled "Yes to an Independent
Counsel." Back then, the Post was acquiver with indignation and demanded a
criminal investigation of "critics suggestions" of wrongdoing in a 16
year-old, $200,000 real estate deal in which the Clintons were eventually
shown to have lost $45,000. The newspaper was in thrall to David Hale, an
Arkansas con man under indictment for embezzling $2 million from the U.S.
government who had acquired a retinue of GOP operatives and was being
escorted around Washington like the heavyweight champ.

      Kenneth Starr subsequently wasted 6 years and $70 million, destroying
many lives in the process, vainly trying to confirm Hale's tall tales while
the Post's reporters took dictation and its editorial writers cheered him
on. So earlier this year, the Post's two top editors, Leonard Downie, Jr.
and Robert G. Kaiser, published "The News About the News," a high-minded
book scolding lesser journalists for failing to meet their own lofty
standards. How many references would you guess it contains to Whitewater?
The answer is zero. Not a solitary mention of the most-heavily reported
political "scandal" of the 90s. Naturally there's plenty about Monica Lewinsky.

      So pardon me if I fail to be moved by the Post's sublime wisdom regarding
George W. Bush and Harken Energy. Unlike Whitewater, see, nobody's talking
about an independent counsel. The Harken story isn't about about an insignificant
backwoods land deal. It's about what Theodore Roosevelt called "malefactors of
great wealth" and the kind of corporate chicanery threatening the economic security
of millions.

      It's clear that SEC investigators who dropped an insider-trading probe
of Bush in 1991 knew nothing about the Enron-style accounting that falsely
inflated the value of Harken stock. Newsweek's reporting of the unsecured
debt Bush accumulated in 1990 to buy into the Texas Rangers also makes it
obvious that the mystery buyer who took the Harken stock off Junior's hands
materialized just in time. Was it really an arms-length transaction?
Inquiring minds want to know.

      TheFrench word for "malefactor," incidentally, is malfaiteur.

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