By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Journal wasn‘t wailing six months ago when N.Y. Times columnist Paul Krugman first bruited the notion that the Enron scandal might ultimately prove more important than 911; then, conservatives suggested that he was a barking liberal. But today the dollar and the stock market are sinking, the name Gordon Gekko has abruptly regained its currency, and such brainy commentators as Kevin Phillips (in last Sunday’s L.A. Times) have begun comparing the ceaseless drip-drip-drip of information about corporate dishonesty to the revelations of Watergate. The big names are lining up like dominoes: Enron, Arthur Andersen, Merrill Lynch, Adelphia, Dynegy, Rite Aid (!), Global Crossing and, of course, Halliburton (whose former CEO was, yes, Dick Cheney). According to The Economist, nearly 1,000 American companies have restated their earnings since 1997, after publishing wrong or misleading numbers designed to show off imaginary profits and artificially inflate stock values. We‘ve become the world’s richest kleptocracy, an Indonesia where everyone has cable.
Not that all this criminality has cost those running our big companies, where top CEOs still earn, on average, 410 times their average employee‘s salary: You’re constantly hearing that professional athletes are bums when they don‘t deliver on their big contracts, but sluggish Mo Vaughn can’t compare to the Enron execs who were paid $680 million in 2001 to steer their company into the shoals. Things are worse than ever now that Bush has stocked his government with former corporate big shots. No Teddy Roosevelt, oilman Bush can‘t even muster fake outrage about corporate crime (he doesn’t really seem to believe that his pal Kenny Boy Lay did anything wrong). Expecting his administration to enforce proper corporate behavior is like asking R. Kelly to make sure the baby sitter gets home safely.
Earlier this year, the vice president‘s top-secret energy task force designed an energy policy that was in some cases literally written by the big energy firms that backed Bush’s campaign. On June 17, the Republicans unveiled a prescription-drug plan championed by the pharmaceutical companies. Two days later, the Washington Post has reported, Bush headlined a Republican fund-raiser expected to raise $30 million. Among the major donors were Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Bayer A.G., Merck and Co., GlaxoSmithKline PLC -- plus their industry group, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Far from worrying about how such donations might corrupt democracy, the Bush administration remains obsessed with winning the war. No, not the War on Terror, you fools, but, as Bush‘s top adviser Karl Rove so fervently put it, ”the war . . . to repeal the death tax.“
Still, it says something about the shifting national mood that, even as Bush’s people bow before big corporations, they‘ve stopped boasting that their boss has an MBA and the management style of a Fortune 500 CEO. Now, they’re promoting him as a Renaissance man. One day, we see him leading hundreds of White House staffers on a three-mile run (like Clinton, he apparently hopes to evoke JFK-style ”vigah“). On still another, we‘re preposterously told that Bush prepped for a speech by discussing Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. (I wonder if Aristotle taught him that it‘s okay to keep lying and lying.) On June 14, Bush gave the commencement address at Ohio State University, an occasion remarkable for an official PA announcement that visible signs of protest would lead to arrest or expulsion. ”Cynicism leaves no monuments,“ the president declared, and maybe he’s right. It all depends on whether you think that huge, deficit-creating tax cuts, most of them going to the rich during wartime, deserve to be declared a monument.
While Bush clearly doesn‘t care about our rampaging corporations, the respectable right-wing media have begun to grasp that their excesses could spell big trouble for conservatism. Their Genghis Khan behavior could spark a ’30s-style populist backlash that could spread like wildfire, so they‘d better at least pretend to take the problem seriously. In a recent editorial for The Weekly Standard, a magazine no less enjoyable for nearly always being wrong, David Brooks correctly notes that the Republican Party now runs ”a K Street patronage operation that effectively eliminates the distinction between conservatives and corporatists.“ And he goes on to insist that America deserves something better than leaders whose vision is overtaken by a ”corporate mentality.“
You know things have gotten pretty hairy when even right-wingers start worrying that the Republican Party has become the running dog of Capital.