IF IT WERE converted to the headquarters of a major U.S. corporation, would the
Bush White House look any different?
Certainly its dress code, conventional working hours and businesslike
atmosphere make it compatible with the culture in executive suites of large
companies and less like the more laid-back, intensely political mind set of the
Bill Clinton White House. But do not imagine these are skin-deep differences or
that they don't represent profound new friendliness to corporate interests.
Business as usual has taken on a whole new meaning in the government's
conduct of business. If the Bush administration had contracted with General
Electric to manage its environmental policy, it's hard to imagine GE chief Jack
Welch finding less fault with it. Concerns about global warming, greenhouse
gases and glacier melt have been replaced by intense emphasis on oil
exploration and relaxation of environmental regulation.
If Welch is betting he won't have to pay for dredging GE-generated PCBs out
of the Hudson River, who can blame him for being encouraged? Anyway, he boldly
sent the president of one of his subsidiaries, the National Broadcasting Co.,
to the New York City Council recently to lobby against PCB dredging. Like
Welch, Vice President Dick Cheney and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill are in
the mold of men who know what it is to meet a major payroll. Bush himself knows
what it means to lose your shirt in the oil business.
Nowhere is the new deference to corporate power more obvious than in the
exquisite politeness of the administration's response to the recent
unpleasantness involving the U.S. plane and crew detained by the Chinese.
Anybody who expected a generic Republican outburst of anti-Chinese rhetoric
has been bitterly disappointed. A handful of Republicans in Congress yelled for
boycotts of Chinese toys and sporting goods-a mindless gesture that, if anybody
took it seriously, would leave major corporations such as Wal-Mart stuck with a
lot of unsold inventory. But both Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have
behaved with the forbearance of society matrons trying not to notice a dog
dropping floating in a punch bowl.
Although unspoken, there is a shrill undertone of concern that this
confrontation could imperil U. S. investments in China or cause rupture of
hopes for American penetration of newly opening Chinese markets.
These are causes dear to corporate America and they explain better than
anything the failure of this administration to behave with a bellicosity
typical of many Republican attitudes towards China.
But, if Bush's Washington has been remade on the corporate model, he must
still govern using the machinery of the old model, which is unforgiving in its
insistence on the constitutional niceties. Just putting up with Congress has
already required Bush to suffer limitations on his tax cut that would be
regarded as seditious were they carried out within a monarchical corporate
Anyway, the modern corporation, however efficient, is a bloodless and
wretchedly inefficient model of democracy. Obligations to minority shareholders
are honored with more lip service than zeal.
Bush's minority shareholders happen to be the more than 51 percent of the
American electorate who didn't vote for him.
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