Boys and girls, can you spell Enron?
       by Gene Lyons

     Has there ever been a more tone-deaf Democrat than Sen. Joseph Lieberman?
Here the country's in the middle of a corporate crime wave, crooked CEOs are
getting hauled off to jail, millions of people are too scared to read their IRA or
401(k) statements, and President Junior's made a big show of signing a corporate
fraud bill he'd have called Bolshevism two months ago if he could pronounce the word.
So who does Lieberman think needs scolding? Al Gore, of course, the guy who picked
the sanctimonious Connecticut Senator as his vice-presidential running mate in 2000.

      According to Lieberman, Gore's "people versus the powerful" rhetoric
cost Democrats the election. Meeting with reporters in New York before
Democratic Leadership Council meeting, he allowed that Gore's populist
rhetoric obscured his "pro-growth" voting record and alienated voters "who
don't see America as us versus them." Even so, Lieberman says he intends to
endorse Gore if he runs again.

      This from the guy who was so eager to win the Mr. Congeniality award
in his debate with Dick Cheney that he sat nodding as the GOP nominee
boasted about making his fortune in private enterprise. Nevermind that
Cheney spent 25 years on the federal payroll before peddling his credentials
as the former Secretary of Defense to Halliburton Co., a major defense
contractor and longtime bankroller of Texas politicians. Regardless of
whether, as many suspect, the $36 million in Halliburton stock options
Cheney has since cashed in were augmented by accounting tricks bordering
upon fraud, Lieberman's politesse made him look foolish.

      Meanwhile,The Economist, hardly a Marxist publication, points out that
in hindsight, Gore's rhetoric sounds like prophecy. During the campaign,
Gore warned that Bush was being bankrolled by "a new generation of
special-interest power-brokers who would like nothing better than a pliant
president who would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits."
Boys and girls, can you spell Enron?

      Gore also cautioned that "when powerful interests try to take advantage
of the American people, it's often other businesses that are hurt in the process
....small- and medium-sized companies that are playing by the rules and earning
profits the old-fashioned way." That is by providing goods and services at
competitive prices, rather than by financial manipulation, insider trading,
self-dealing, market-rigging, fraudulent accounting and stock swindles.

      It'd be a mistake to worry about Lieberman's political influence. He's the
Democratic equivalent of Sen. Phil Gramm, a purely Washington phenomenon
whose presidential aspirations will melt like an ice cube in July once the voting starts.
It's hard to imagine this humorless drone being elected even in Connecticut, where
public merriment is forbidden by law and people's idea of a big time is sitting up
until midnight watching insurance policies expire.

      Criticizing Lieberman doesn't mean automatically endorsing Gore, who in many
respects ran a terrible campaign, in part because he heeded pundits urging him to
"distance himself" from Bill Clinton. One good joke would have freed him from
Bad Bill, the priapic president, and aligned him with Good Bill, the successful
leader--who'd have been easily re-elected had he been eligible. Alas Gore,
uniformly described as an easygoing, funny man among friends, never told it.
Even so, The Economist notes, he won 51 million votes, 4 million more than
Clinton ever got, and almost 600,000 more, lest we forget, than President Junior.

      That said, the current crisis gives Democrats a good chance to reintroduce
themselves to a substantial proportion of the electorate being reminded that
compared to the Ken Lays, Dick Cheneys and George W. Bushes of this world,
we're almost all little people. Surely it counts for something that corporate reform bill
Bush signed yesterday outlaws practices he personally benefited from--such as
Monopoly money "loans" to corporate directors that have to be repaid only if the
stock they buy increases in value. A bribe if offered to you or me.

      Fact is, the only "class warfare" fought in the USA since 1980 was declared
by free market fundamentalists in light-wing "think tanks," politicians like Newt
Gingrich, and their media allies who persuaded millions of gullible voters that no
valid public sphere exists apart from the military, and that vast wealth absolves its
possessors of what old fashioned theologians called "Original Sin." In reality,
we need regulated markets for same reason we need speed limits and state
troopers with radar guns: because without them some people will do any
damn thing they think they can get away with.

impressed with the Democrat-Gazette's outrage over Bill Clinton's seeking
reimbursement for legal fees if the editorialist had the intellectual honesty to
mention two pertinent facts: first, Clinton's request pertains to the six year
Whitewater investigation, not the Lewinsky matter; second, both Ronald Reagan
and George H.W. Bush sought and got repayment for their legal costs in the
Iran-Contra probe.

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