George W. Bush was never much for rhetoric during the 2000 campaign, but he delivered one message with exceptional clarity and consistency throughout his run for the presidency. A Bush presidency, the Republican candidate declared, would be marked by a departure from the "sleaze" of the Clinton-Gore years. Yes, Bush may have been short on specifics, but he went long on the promise to "restore honor and dignity to the White House."
Though political pundits tended to miss the emphasis, voters did not. The Bush campaign's appeal to middle-class moderates - especially suburban soccer moms who remain a critical bloc of "swing" voters - was built in large part on the suggestion that, even if Bush was an intellectual lightweight and an ideological Neanderthal, he could be counted on to set a standard for high-minded behavior in the executive branch.
To the extent that candidate Bush's speeches featured even a hint of drama, it came during the ethics soliloquy, in which he mocked Bill Clinton's inaugural pledge to forge the most ethical presidential administration in American history. (Interestingly, that pledge had resonance in no small part because the administration of Clinton's predecessor, George Bush the Elder, had been so seriously compromised by political and financial scandals.)
Whitewater, Travelgate, Buddhist temple fund-raising, "no controlling legal authority," Paula Jones, Monica - the Clinton-Gore administration had been ethically indefensible. A Bush administration would be different - and, the presumption was, better.
The promise was laughable to veteran Bush watchers such as Molly Ivins and Jim Hightower, who recounted tales of ethical lapses wider than the Rio Grande during Bush's tenure as governor of Texas. But still Bush banged on, like a record stuck on the "honor and dignity" chorus. "Honor and dignity." "Honor and dignity." "Honor and dignity."
So how is Bush delivering on his promise?
Upon his confirmation as Bush's secretary of the treasury, Paul O'Neill promised to avoid conflicts of interest by divesting himself of stock in Alcoa, the aluminum corporation he once headed. This was necessary because, as O'Neill boasted, Bush was involving him in "almost every other issue the government is involved in." But Salon.com has revealed that O'Neill failed to sell off the stock. That was lucky for O'Neill, as the Bush administration directed a number of aluminum suppliers in the western United States to stop production as an energy conservation move. The global aluminum supply was reduced by 5 percent, a twist that caused Alcoa stock to run up by 30 percent. Advantage O'Neill, as the value of the stocks he failed to divest rose in value by as much as $60 million.
In March, executives of Intel Corp. arrived in Washington seeking approval from the Bush administration for the merger of one of the firm's key suppliers with a Dutch entity. They headed straight to the White House, where they met with Bush administration political commissar Karl Rove. They did not have to work hard to convince Rove of the importance of the merger approval - Rove owned more than $100,000 in Intel stock. And they did not have to wait long for the result they desired. In two months, the Bush administration gave the go-ahead and that was that. Rove claims he did nothing wrong, but he forgot to let the Intel lobbyists in on the spin; in public comments they frankly acknowledged that they met with Rove seeking a political favor and the company's top lobbyist described the meeting with Rove as "quite useful." After the deal came down, Rove sold his stock in Intel and other firms - pocketing as much as $2.5 million.
"This," explained U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking minority member of the House Committee on Government Reform, "is exactly the type of situation that (House Republicans) would have investigated had it occurred in the Clinton administration."
Yes, and they would have been ranting about "honor and dignity" all the time. Just like George W. Bush did, before he placed Rove, O'Neill and their ilk in positions of public trust where they could make decisions that just happened to fatten their personal bank accounts.
"Honor and dignity." "Honor and dignity." "Honor and dignity."
Copyright 2001 The Capital Times